Previewing The Enemy: Kentucky Wildcats
The Penn State Nittany Lions (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten) will take on the Kentucky Wildcats (9-3, 5-3 SEC) in the Citrus Bowl on Tuesday afternoon.
Kentucky comes in with some very impressive wins and one or two head-scratching losses. The Wildcats took down a strong Florida team which dismantled Michigan in the Peach Bowl. They lost to Tennessee, the last-placed team in the SEC East.
James Franklin and company will hope that the team that lost to the Volunteers shows up on Tuesday, not the squad that took down the Gators.
Mark Stoops has put together an overachieving football team at what most casual fans would label a basketball school. It’s not surprising that Kentucky has that label as a basketball school, considering its eight national championships and 17 Final Four appearances. Before this season, the Wildcats’ football team had finished a season ranked just three times since Bear Bryant left the program in 1953.
Kentucky’s recruiting has been around the middle of the pack since 2000. In 2017 and 2018, the Wildcats have had the No. 30 and No. 36 recruiting classes, respectively.
Kentucky is overachieving by almost all standards, behind the outstanding play of standout players like Benny Snell Jr. and Josh Allen.
The Kentucky Wildcats are young at quarterback. Terry Wilson, an Oklahoma City native, originally signed with Oregon and redshirted his freshman season. He then transferred to Garden City Community College and played one season before making his way to Kentucky.
Wilson has sophomore standing and enough talent to have won the starting job in Lexington without any previous game experience there. He’s definitely a dual-threat quarterback — Wilson threw for 1,768 yards and eleven touchdowns, and ran for 518 yards and four touchdowns. He has struggled with accuracy and decision-making, though, tossing eight interceptions this season.
The most reliable part of the offense has come in the form of Benny Snell Jr. Snell has been the man since early in his freshman year. The 223-pound running back rushed for 1,305 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2018. A bruising back, the Nittany Lions probably won’t have an easy time bringing Snell down.
Out wide, former four-star recruit Lynn Bowden Jr. has led Kentucky’s group of receivers. Bowden has an eye-popping 62 catches for 661 yards and five touchdowns. CJ Conrad, a 6’5″ senior tight end, is one of Wilson’s favorite targets. Conrad reeled in 29 catches and three touchdowns this season.
Kentucky’s offensive line gave up 24 sacks in the regular season, one fewer than Penn State’s offensive line – that’s a middle-of-the-pack statistic. The Wildcats’ rushing offense ranked No. 37 in the country.
Josh Allen is the star of the show for Kentucky on defense and it’d be a mistake not to talk about him first. Allen is one of the very best defenders in college football and one of the most exciting players to watch overall. The outside linebacker is a projected top-three draft pick for his ability to get after the quarterback.
Penn State’s offensive line faces a tall task in limiting his impact on Tuesday’s game — Allen literally tells his opponents that they can’t block him, because he’s managed to tally 14 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss on top of five forced fumbles.
Kash Daniel is the next-most prolific tackler among the linebackers. Daniel, a junior, made 76 stops in the regular season, although he’s not the same threat when getting after the quarterback. He was shut out in terms of sacks throughout the 2018 campaign.
Despite the talent on the defensive side of the ball, the front seven hasn’t managed particularly well against the run. Ranked No. 50 in rushing defense, the Wildcats are giving up an average 150.8 yards on the ground.
Mike Edwards leads the way for Kentucky’s defensive backfield. The junior safety is the second-leading tackler on the squad with 77, 9.5 of which came for a loss of yardage. Edwards also has two interceptions to his name. Next to Edwards sits Darius West, a senior safety from Ohio. Edwards hasn’t been as prolific behind the line of scrimmage as his safety partner, but has 76 tackles and three interceptions.
Beyond those two safeties, the rest of the defense has combined for just three interceptions. Still, with a player like Josh Allen, the Kentucky defense could wreak some havoc.
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The redshirt freshman has seen increased reps at wide receiver and punt returner this season.
Coming off another conference win, the Nittany Lions emphasized the importance of having each other’s backs in the midst of the Big Ten slate.
“Now, running out of the tunnel at a White Out, it gives you chills.”