Mark Story

How No. 14 Kentucky and No. 12 Penn State match up — with a Citrus Bowl prediction

Does UK’s Josh Allen have a trophy case?

Kentucky senior outside linebacker Josh Allen has collected numerous postseason awards. As the Wildcats prepare for the Citrus Bowl vs. Penn State on Jan. 1, 2019, in Orlando, Allen was asked what he was doing with all his trophies.
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Kentucky senior outside linebacker Josh Allen has collected numerous postseason awards. As the Wildcats prepare for the Citrus Bowl vs. Penn State on Jan. 1, 2019, in Orlando, Allen was asked what he was doing with all his trophies.

How No. 14 Kentucky (9-3, 5-3 SEC) and No. 12 Penn State (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten) match up at each position for Tuesday’s VRBO Citrus Bowl — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Terry Wilson (67.6 percent completions, 1,768 yards passing with 11 touchdowns vs. eight interceptions; 518 yards rushing) is coming off his best game in a Kentucky uniform. In UK’s 56-10 pasting of archrival Louisville, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore completed 17 of 23 throws for 261 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 79 yards and a score. Penn State’s Trace McSorley (31-8 as a starter) is the winningest QB in Nittany Lions history. The 6-foot, 201-pound senior is a dual threat but has been more effective as a runner (723 yards rushing, 11 TDs) than a passer (53.4 percent completions for 2,284 yards with 16 TDs and six picks) this season.

Advantage: Penn State

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Trace McSorley is 31-8 as a starting quarterback for Penn State. Linsey Fagan AP

Running backs

Benny Snell needs 107 yards rushing in what will be his final college game to pass Sonny Collins (3,835 yards) as Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher. The 5-11, 223-pound junior from Westerville, Ohio — who has announced he will enter his name in the 2019 NFL Draft — comes into the bowl game with 1,305 yards and 14 touchdowns, joining Herschel Walker as the only players in SEC history to run for 1,000 yards-plus and at least 12 TDs in their first three college seasons. Redshirt sophomore backup A.J. Rose led UK rushers in the win over U of L with 112 yards and had a 75-yard TD jaunt. Penn State’s Miles Sanders joins with QB McSorley to give the Nittany Lions a lethal one-two rushing duo. A 5-11, 215-pound junior from Pittsburgh, Sanders has run for 1,223 yards and nine TDs.

Advantage: Kentucky

Wide receivers

UK slot receiver Lynn Bowden (62 catches, 661 yards, five TDs) capped off a breakout sophomore season with six receptions for 86 yards and two TDs at Louisville. Sophomore outside receiver Josh Ali also shined against U of L (three catches, 59 yards, one TD) . Penn State redshirt freshman KJ Hamler (41 catches, 713 yards, five TDs) emerged as the go-to guy for a Nittany Lions wide receivers unit that disappointed this season. Redshirt junior Juwan Johnson had 54 catches in 2017, but made only 23 this year.

Advantage: Even

Tight ends

Kentucky senior C.J. Conrad (29 catches, 297 yards, three TDs) needs 6 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for his career and one TD catch to tie James Whalen Jr. for the UK career record (13) for tight ends. The LaGrange, Ohio, product’s physicality as a blocker is key to UK’s running attack, too. Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth was chosen freshman All-America by ESPN after catching 24 passes for 330 yards and seven touchdowns as a true frosh.

Advantage: Kentucky

Kentucky football recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Vince Marrow talks about senior tight end C.J. Conrad, who will play his final college game when UK takes on Penn State in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2019, in Orlando, Fla.

Offensive line

Kentucky senior right guard Bunchy Stallings was named a first-team AP All-American after a season in which he totaled 170 blocks at the point of attack with 55 knockdown blocks while only allowing half a QB sack. Penn State right guard Connor McGovern and left tackle Ryan Bates were each chosen third-team All-Big Ten.

Advantage: Even

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Senior right guard Bunchy Stallings gave up just half of a quarterback sack, had 170 blocks at the point of attack and had 55 knockdown blocks for Kentucky this season. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Defensive line

Kentucky junior defensive end Calvin Taylor, a 6-9, 300-pound product of Augusta, Ga., had a tackle for loss at Louisville. Nose guard Quinton Bohanna, a 6-4, 340-pound sophomore from Cordova, Tenn., shared in a TFL at U of L. Penn State ended the regular season first in the nation in QB sacks as a team. Sophomore end Yetur Gross-Matos has eight sacks and 20 TFL. Junior end Shareef Miller has seven sacks and 14 TFL. Senior tackle Robert Windsor has 7.5 sacks and 11 TFL.

Advantage: Penn State

Linebackers

After one of the great individual seasons in Kentucky sports history, senior outside linebacker/rush end Josh Allen (84 tackles, 14 sacks, 18.5 TFL, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups) chose to play with his UK teammates a final time rather than sit out the Citrus Bowl to protect his NFL Draft standing. Senior WLB Jordan Jones (68 tackles, 5.5 TFL) is ineligible for the bowl game, so UK will rely on true freshmen Deandre Square (29 tackles) and Chris Oats (24 tackles, two sacks). Penn State true freshman OLB Micah Parsons leads the Nittany Lions in tackles (69) even though he started only one game (vs. Rutgers).

Advantage: Kentucky

Penn State football coach James Franklin talks about how they are preparing for facing Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen in the Citrus Bowl.



Defensive backs

Kentucky safeties Mike Edwards (77 tackles, six pass breakups, two interceptions) and Darius West (76 tackles, six pass breakups, three interceptions) have each had stellar senior seasons. Penn State senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye is one of the best defensive backs in the Big Ten. The 6-1, 203-pound product of Tampa, Fla., broke up 12 passes and intercepted three. His interception in overtime allowed Penn State to escape an Appalachian State upset bid in the season opener.

Advantage: Even

Special teams

Kentucky sophomore punter Max Duffy (44.8 yards per kick) stopped 25 of his 51 punts inside the foes’ 20-yard line. Senior place-kicker Miles Butler (five of nine field goals, long of 40 yards) made field goals of 32 and 38 yards to help UK beat Middle Tennessee State two games ago. Penn State punter Blake Gillikin (43.3-yard average) stopped only 18 of 59 punts inside the 20. Place-kicker Jake Pinegar is 15 of 21 on field goals with a long of 49 yards. Kickoff returner KJ Hamler (26 yards average on 19 returns) is dangerous.

Advantage: Penn State

Prediction

Kentucky 28, Penn State 27

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a H-L sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.

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