Sidelines with John Clay

Three things Kentucky must do to beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl

Three things Kentucky needs to do Tuesday to beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl

1. Rush for at least 100 yards

Mark Stoops’ Cats are 8-0 this season when they hit triple digits in the run game. They are 1-3 when they do not. Texas A&M held UK to just 70 rushing yards during the Aggies’ 20-14 overtime win in College Station. UK managed to beat Missouri 15-14 despite rushing for just 91 yards. But Georgia held the Cats to 91 in that 34-17 win and Tennessee limited UK to 77 yards in the Vols’ 24-7 upset victory.

And while UK has the nation’s 34th best rushing attack, averaging 201.3 yards per game, Penn State ranked 72nd in rush defense, allowing 168.4 yards per game. Compare that to the Nittany Lions’ pass defense, which is fourth in the country in efficiency. So UK’s strongest attribute on offense meets Penn State’s weakest link on defense.

As you may have heard, UK’s Benny Snell needs 107 yards to become the school’s all-time rushing leader. If Snell can get that record, Kentucky has a much better chance of getting the victory.

2. Contain Penn State’s Trace McSorley

The senior quarterback is the undisputed leader of James Franklin’s offense. This year, McSorley has completed 175 of 328 passes for 2,284 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. On his career, McSorley has thrown for 75 touchdowns with just 24 interceptions. Here’s the thing: He’s also rushed for 723 yards and 11 touchdowns this season on 151 carries.

McSorley’s best game of the season statistically came in Penn State’s 27-26 loss to Big Ten champion Ohio State. He completed 16 of 32 passes for 286 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed a 93-yard pass against the Buckeyes. He also rushed for 175 yards on 25 carries.

McSorley’s worst game came in PSU’s 42-7 loss to Michigan. He completed just five of 13 passes for 83 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He ended up with minus-6 yards on 12 carries. And Michigan State held McSorley to just 37 yards on 13 carries in the Spartans’ 21-17 win over the Lions.

If the UK defense, led by star Josh Allen, who has 14 sacks on the season, can harass McSorley, all the better for the Cats.

3. Win the duel between the playmakers

Kentucky boasts Lynn Bowden, a sophomore wide receiver from Youngstown, Ohio, who also returns kicks. Penn State boasts KJ Hamler, a freshman wide receiver from Pontiac, Mich., who also returns kicks.

As well as catching 62 passes for 661 yards and five touchdowns, Bowden averaged 20.7 yards per kick return with a long of 42 yards. He also returned three punts for 78 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown against Missouri that sparked a Kentucky comeback for the 15-14 win.

Hamler caught 41 passes for 713 yards and five TDs on the season. He also averaged 26 yards per kickoff return, including a 67-yarder against Iowa. He averages 7.9 yards per punt return, with a long of 33 yards against Kent State.

If Bowden or Hamler breaks a big play Tuesday, either with a catch or return, that could mean the difference in the game.

Citrus Bowl

No. 14 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Penn State

When: 1 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.

TV: ABC-36

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, WLXG-AM 1300, WLXG-FM 92.5

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader