Lions, ’Cats will be ready
ORLANDO, Fla. — Five things to look for as Penn State and Kentucky battle in the Citrus Bowl, with both teams looking to end the season with 10 victories.
No. 1: Who wants it?
It’s amazing watching so many of these bowl games and seeing how easy it is to tell which teams don’t really want to be there. One side gets down a couple of scores, players pack it in and it turns into blowout city.
Could that happen today? It seems doubtful, but honestly, you just never know. Both teams have the motivation to get to 10 wins, but honestly, I wonder how much of a factor that truly is once the actual game starts.
These are kids who have been enjoying Orlando for a week, many have their sites set on the NFL and, let’s face it, from the PSU side, this bowl is a step down from recent years at the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl.
Does that mean the Nittany Lions won’t be fully focused and prepared? No. In fact, one constant under James Franklin is that the team always gives a solid effort and is in every game.
Still, the Lions have some guys with their sights on the NFL, and in this day and age, you just never know who’s truly going to give 100 percent under all circumstances.
Speaking of that, Kentucky’s star linebacker, Josh Allen, decided to play in this game. That’s commendable, as Neil Rudel pointed out in his column Sunday. But is it smart? That’s another story.
Allen is a top 10 NFL pick, and it would be horrible to see him get injured today. We all know that.
He knows that. So, could that change how he plays at all?
Again, we just never know about these things in bowl games, which unfortunately seem to be becoming less and less relevant in many ways with each passing year.
No. 2: Stop the run
Kentucky has a terrific running back in Benny Snell, and the Wildcats do an excellent job on the ground.
It’s unfortunate for them that, in one of their biggest bowl games in years, they’re running into a defense that is good against the run.
The Lions made great strides under coordinator Brent Pry as the season progressed, and there’s really no reason to think they’ll struggle against Kentucky’s run game.
If PSU can stop Snell and quarterback Terry Wilson on the ground, it will force the Wildcats to throw a lot, and that’s simply not what they want to be doing.
Tackles Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor will be key in the middle of the D-line for Penn State, and don’t be surprised if linebacker Micah Parsons has a bunch of tackles to close out his impressive freshman season.
No. 3: Throw it deep
Trace McSorley was a shell of himself late in the season with a knee injury, so PSU’s offense was more limited in what it could do. But the Lions are always at their best when they’re taking shots down the field, and that should be a big part of the game plan today.
Offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has shown glimpses of letting McSorley air it out this season, but too often the passes were incomplete. Look for Rahne to give the senior quarterback a lot of opportunities for big throws in his final game.
Obviously, protecting McSorley and giving him time to throw in those situations will be vital, and the Lions will have to make sure they always have someone focused on preventing Allen from getting to the quarterback.
No. 4: Trickeration
Bowl games are always fun because you get to see certain things you didn’t see throughout the season. We pretty much know what PSU’s offense is, but it would be cool to have Rahne unleash some new tricks, such as maybe a flea-flicker with McSorley throwing deep or a hook-and-latter play or something.
That said, Penn State had better be ready for anything and everything from Kentucky. The Wildcats don’t get many of these kind of opportunities for signature wins on a national stage, so there’s a good chance coach Mark Stoops will be willing to do anything to get a victory.
No. 5: Players to watch
PSU: As usual, McSorley is the obvious answer, and it would be great to see him close his brilliant career with a huge day. But in this game, the defensive line must come up big and stop the Wildcats on the ground.
Kentucky: QB Terry Wilson will have a lot of pressure on him, literally and figuratively. He’s not a great passer, but he will have to have a big day in order to keep PSU’s defense honest against the run game.
Prediction: Penn State 30, Kentucky 20
Follow @CoryGiger on Twitter for live updates and analysis throughout today’s game.