The 14th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats are just days away from their Citrus Bowl clash on New Year’s Day with the 12th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions. Kickoff is set for Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. from Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
The Wildcats (9-3) are coming off their best regular season in over three decades. The Cats won nine games for the first time since 1984 and have a chance for their first 10 win season since 1977 with a victory.
Penn State also went 9-3 in 2018. Despite losing their top player Saquon Barkley to the NFL, the Nittany Lions still had a respectable 2018 season as two of their three losses came to teams ranked inside the top ten (Michigan & Ohio State).
It will be the first time the two programs will meet since the 1999 Outback Bowl, which was also the last time Kentucky played on New Year’s Day. Penn State won the contest in Tim Couch’s final college game.
Both teams will be looking to send some of their all-time legends off with victories. Kentucky will be saying goodbye to Josh Allen and Benny Snell. With 107 yards, Snell would become the school’s all-time rushing leader.
Penn State will be playing their last game with Trace McSorley under center. McSorley is Penn State’s all-time passing leader.
With both teams looking to win 10 games, there’s a lot to play for in this non-college football playoff game. The staff at A Sea of Blue reconvene their roundtable to discuss the match-up.
As Mark Stoops mentioned, the Penn State match-up on paper is similar to the one Kentucky faced in Mississippi State back in September. Of course, that game went the Wildcats way. However, as similar as the opponents may be there truly isn’t a comparison when you’re talking about Penn State as the Nittany Lions are one of the most celebrated programs in all of college football.
When evaluating the 2019 Citrus Bowl, you have to like Kentucky’s chances to put up points. Unlike Mississippi State, who ranked 9th in the nation in run defense, Penn State ranks 67th. That is excellent news for Benny Snell who is looking to break Kentucky’s all-time rushing record with 107 yards.
As for the Wildcats defense, Kentucky finished 16th in the nation in total defense setting up what should be a heavyweight battle. Penn State averaged 34.6 points per game and will look to send their program’s all-time passing leader in senior Trace McSorley off with a win.
This game looks to be a bit higher scoring than Kentucky has played this year. The Penn State defense is shaky, but their offense can score on anyone. Thus, Kentucky will need to win in the trenches on both sides of the ball and run the ball successfully when it matters most.
It will come down to which team can get the crucial stop and I love Kentucky’s chances thanks to Josh Allen being on the field. Who wouldn’t want to see Allen get a strip sack to clinch the team’s 10th win in his final game? I like the Cats in a close one.
Prediction Kentucky 28, Penn State 24
Kentucky will take the field one last time this season when they travel to Orlando to play Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl. Kentucky had one of their best seasons in forty years, but it will be the last game for star Wildcats Benny Snell Jr. and Josh Allen. After losing Saquon Barkley, the Nittany Lions fell off from where they were a year ago.
Kentucky had an amazing year, but there were ups and downs that cost them in their biggest opportunities. The offense struggled mightily at times while the defense did all they could to make up for it. Benny Snell Jr. and Josh Allen will play this one last time in a Wildcat uniform before they are high NFL Draft picks come April. All in all, it was a historic year full of unforgettable moments that left Kentucky second in the SEC East and the Wildcats program in an outstanding position.
As for Penn State, they finished third in the Big Ten East behind early Heisman candidate Trace McSorley and new running back Miles Sanders. If anyone is going to have a team prepared, it would be Lions coach James Franklin.
To end the season, I believe this is going to be one of the better games of the bowl season with these two impressive teams. I think James Franklin and Trace McSorley will make the experienced plays they will need to end the game with the Lions on top, even though the Cats will have nothing to be disappointed about based on this season.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Kentucky 23
This game has defense written all over it. It’s going to boil down to Kentucky’s ability to get to quarterback Trace McSorley and Penn State’s ability to stop the UK rushing attack.
If Kentucky can get Benny Snell 15-plus touches, then I think they have a very good chance to knock off the Nittany Lions. Snell has been UK’s workhorse back all season, and in fact, his entire career. I’m sure Eddie Gran, Mark Stoops, and the Kentucky offensive line would love nothing more than to send Snell out with a victory.
Josh Allen was a disruptive force all season long and I don’t expect that to change in Orlando. If Allen is in the PSU backfield consistently, it’s going to be a long afternoon for McSorley and the Penn State offense. Missing Jordan Jones will hurt, but UK has established depth at every single defensive position this season, so I don’t expect a huge drop off.
While Allen and Snell are the stars of this team, I think the key to this game is Terry Wilson and his receivers; this includes C.J. Conrad. If Terry Touchdown can play mistake-free football, then I think UK will walk away with the victory. If the Cats lose the turnover battle, they could very well lose the game.
Prediction: Kentucky 23, Penn State 16
This has been a truly amazing season for Kentucky football. Along with the nine wins, the Wildcats have had two of the best players in program history in Josh Allen and Benny Snell. I know fans were up and down throughout the season emotionally, but when looking back on this year it will be remembered as a special run.
The finale of this fantastic season comes in a New Year’s Day battle with the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State was not necessarily in contention for the Big 10 title, but they proved to be a solid team with nine wins of their own. They put up a lot of points and have a solid defense, although not as strong as many defenses Kentucky saw this season.
I could easily see this being a let down game for Penn State. They had hopes of the College Football Playoff before the season, and landing outside of a New Year’s Six bowl is quite a disappointment for them.
However, since bowl games are very unpredictable, I will have to make this pick based on what is on paper. Unfortunately, that means I have to go with Penn State. I believe it will be close and Kentucky will make a strong showing, but I’m afraid the Wildcats will not be able to keep up offensively.
Prediction: Penn State 30, Kentucky 20
The Kentucky Wildcats just had one of the best seasons in program history. And the final game is against a traditional football powerhouse in a New Year’s Day bowl. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The Penn State Nittany Lions are led by senior QB Trace McSorley. The veteran signal-caller is one of the best quarterbacks in program history. He’s a dual-threat quarterback that can light up the scoreboard. However, he felt the loss of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead (head coach at Mississippi State) and star RB Saquon Barkley (NFL).
McSorley is completing a paltry 53.4% of his passes to go along with 16 touchdowns and 2,284 yards. That’s significantly down from the last two seasons when he threw for over 3,500 yards and at least 28 touchdowns in each. However, he has limited his interceptions with only six on the season. He’s most dangerous on the ground. This season he rushed for a career-high 723 yards (855 without sacks) and 11 touchdowns. That’s where the Nittany Lions tear defenses apart.
McSorley isn’t the only player Kentucky has to worry about on the offensive side of the ball. Former five-star running back Miles Sanders has been awesome this season. He finished the year with 1,223 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, while averaging close to six yards per carry. The key for Kentucky will be slowing down this dangerous run game.
On the other side of the ball is one of the best edge defenders in college football. Yetur Gross-Matos was unstoppable as a sophomore this season. He was an All-Big Ten selection and registered 59 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 26.5 run stuffs, and two forced fumbles. He is Penn State’s version of Josh Allen and he’s been simply dominant.
These two teams are very similar. Both want to control the ball by dominating on defense and running the ball down their opponent’s throat. The Nittany Lions have a good defense, but not as good as the Cats. Their pass defense is excellent, but they’re not the best against the run. Kentucky will have to set the tone early with their defense and run game, and the rest will play out.
I could see this game going either way. Penn State doesn’t have any bad losses, but they haven’t really beaten anyone, either. They’re not the same dominant team they were for decades under Joe Paterno. James Franklin is a solid coach, but Stoops is going to want his revenge for running up the score when Franklin coached at Vanderbilt. This could go a long way with recruiting, especially in Ohio. There’s a lot at stake and I think it’ll be a back-and-forth battle all game. If Kentucky can limit turnovers and slow down PSU’s run game, then the Cats will come out on top.
Prediction: Kentucky 24, Penn State 21