Last Updated: 2018-12-10
It’s been a banner year for the Kentucky Wildcats. The school just posted its best record since 1984, and the Wildcats are playing in a New Year’s Day Bowl for the first time in two decades. Kentucky’s dedication to Mark Stoops has paid off, and the team has improved in all six seasons under his tenure. Now, Stoops is looking to lead Kentucky to its first bowl win since 2008 when the Wildcats take on the Penn State Nittany Lions in the Citrus Bowl.
Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Citrus Bowl Betting Odds: Penn State -6, O/U 47.5
Location: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
Date and Time: Tuesday, January 1, 2019, 1 p.m. ET
Citrus Bowl TV Coverage: ABC
The Nittany Lions got quite the scare in their season opener. Appalachian State came into Happy Valley and nearly knocked off Penn State, bringing back memories of what they did to Michigan in 2007. It turned out App State was pretty good though, as Penn State blasted its next three opponents. Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions lost yet another heartbreaker to Ohio State and fell to Michigan State the following week to knock themselves out of the Big Ten East race. They were able to rally and win five of their last six to qualify for a New Year’s Day bowl for the third straight year though.
Kentucky broke one of the longest losing streaks in the country this year. The Wildcats had lost 31 games in a row to Florida, but they were able to finally get redemption with a 27-16 win over the Gators in Gainesville. They rode that win to a top-10 ranking, and they nearly started the season 8-0 but lost on the road to Texas A&M in overtime. Kentucky lost to Georgia and Tennessee in back-to-back weeks but ended the year with a cathartic beatdown of rival Louisville.
Injuries and Absences
There aren’t many injuries to report for either team ahead of this game. Running back Mark Allen was lost for the season in September and defensive tackle Fred Hansard suffered a season-ending injury in October, but there are no other injuries to report for Penn State. Head coach James Franklin keeps things close to the chest though, so there are certainly other injuries. The defensive line depth has taken a big hit this season due to some losses in summer, so keep an eye on that.
The Wildcats have just two injuries to report. OT Landon Young and TE Keaton Upshaw both suffered season-ending injuries early in the season, and they will miss this game too. Those are the only two players listed as out due to injury.
This may be James Franklin’s last season at Penn State. He was heavily linked to the USC job this offseason, and he refused to shut down any speculation that he was interested in the job. Franklin likely would have been the school’s top candidate if it had decided to fire Clay Helton, but they instead decided to hold the course for at least one more year. Franklin has done a great job during his time at Penn State, but it looks like he is getting ready to make an exit.
Stoops has done an incredible job of turning Kentucky into a program to watch out for. It’s not easy to win at the school that let Bear Bryant walk away to focus on basketball, but Stoops has overcome a lot of the fundamental challenges. He has been continually rewarded with extensions, and it looks like he is in it for the long haul.
Matchup to Watch
The big question coming into this game is whether or not Kentucky can run the ball on Penn State’s front seven. Benny Snell Jr. has been the best running back in the conference these last few years, and he finished the year with over 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Wildcats. He takes the pressure off of Terry Wilson with his ability to pick up yards, and that will be needed against one of the better secondaries in the sport.
Penn State is a little thin along the defensive line though. The Nittany Lions have allowed a few teams to run on them this year, and the Wildcats have had a good amount of success running between the tackles.
Citrus Bowl Pick
This is a few too many points. Trace McSorley isn’t a very accurate quarterback, and Kentucky has a defense that will punish you if you throw late or throw into traffic. The Wildcats will be hungry to win their first bowl game in 10 years, while the Nittany Lions are going to be lacking motivation after a disappointing season. Kentucky should cover and it has a great chance to pull off the upset.
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