No. 12 Penn State Football entered the 2018 season with high aspirations as record-setting quarterback Trace McSorley was leading the offense in his senior season, but it fell short of expectations. While his 723 rushing yards were a career-high for him, his 3,007 total yards was the lowest of his career and he failed to throw over 20 touchdowns in a season for the first time as a starter. The senior quarterback will finish his Penn State career in the VRBO Citrus Bowl against 14th ranked Kentucky on New Year’s Day at 1 p.m.
Miles Sanders was tasked with replacing Saquon Barkley and did an admirable job, as he finished second in the Big Ten in rushing yards with 1,223. His ability to gain tough yards up the middle was crucial for an offense that struggled to gain traction at times.
Freshmen KJ Hamler and Pat Freiermuth were McSorley’s most trusted targets in the passing as they finished first and second on the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns. The former was the Nittany Lions’ most explosive receiver in the passing game as his 713 was the highest on the team as his ability to work in the slot proved to be the safety blanket that McSorley needed.
Freiermuth took over for current Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki and became the team’s best red zone target with a team-high seven touchdowns. While he only recorded over 50 receiving yards in one game this season, Freiermuth was a reliable target over the middle of the field that McSorley turned to when he was in trouble.
The Penn State offensive line was solid as they helped the Nittany Lions run for 2,503 yards and 33 touchdowns this season. They are going to need to play well as the Wildcats possess the nation’s top defensive player in linebacker Josh Allen. His 14.0 sacks topped the SEC and finished tied for second in the nation in forced fumbles with five. Tackles Ryan Bates and Will Fries need to account for Allen at all times as he is the type of player that can destroy an opponents’ gameplan.
Offensively, Kentucky likes to run the football with AP third team All-American Benny Snell, who finished second in the SEC in rushing yards and touchdowns with 1,305 and 14, respectively. His ability to break tackles has helped a Kentucky offense that struggles to throw the ball down the field as the Wildcats have thrown for less than 2,000 yards on the season.
Kevin Givens, Yetur Gross-Matos, Micah Parsons and Robert Windsor need to disrupt the run game early and force quarterback Terry Wilson to beat them with his arm. When Kentucky throws the ball, receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. will be the main target as he leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Amani Oruwariye will most likely be covering him throughout the game as he is Penn State’s top cover man with three interceptions and 11 passes defended.
Kentucky has been the feel good story of the 2018 season, but their offense is too one-dimensional to beat Penn State in the Citrus. Prediction: Penn State 24, Kentucky 17