New Year’s Day is traditionally a big day for college football and New Year’s 2019 will be no different. Four of the biggest bowl games in the sport will be played that day, starting in Florida with the Outback Bowl. The second game on the docket is the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando and it gives college football fans one last chance to see Trace McSorley quarterback the Penn State Nittany Lions as they take on Kentucky and their dominant running back Benny Snell.
Spread: Penn State -6.5
McSorley has had a legendary career at Penn State, setting new marks for passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions during his three years as a starter. He wasn’t quite as accurate this season, completing just 53 percent of his passes for 2,200 yards and just 16 touchdowns. He did plenty of damage on the ground with 11 touchdowns and finishing second on the team in rushing yards. Miles Sanders was his partner in crime in the backfield, surpassing 1,200 yards with nine touchdowns.
The defense got stronger as the year went on outside of the loss to Michigan. Sophomore defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos had a breakout season, picking up eight sacks among the 20 tackles for loss on the year. He, along with Shareef Miller and Robert Windsor combined to disrupt opponents’ passing games consistently as the Nittany Lions ranked among the top groups in the country against the pass. They were also good a preventing big plays, ranking 18th in the country in IsoPPP (1.08).
That is bad news for a Kentucky offense that already struggled at garnering big plays this season, ranking 119th in that same metric on offense (1.04). Running back Benny Snell is the main threat for the ‘Cats offense, running for over 1,300 yards with 14 touchdowns this season. Snell considers himself one of the best, if not the best, backs in the country and he’ll have the chance to prove it against a PSU run defense that was suspect at times.
Kentucky’s defense was its strong suit, holding opponents to just 16.2 points per game while ranking in the top 30 in S&P+, success rate (38.2%), and finishing in the Top 10 in points allowed per scoring opportunity (3.47). Senior linebacker Josh Allen was the key, racking up 68 tackles, 18.5 for loss with 14 sacks on the season. He’ll look to slow down the McSorley/Sanders read-option that Penn State likes to run.
The Wildcats were solid as underdogs this year, going 3-2 against the spread. Penn State was similarly strong as a favorite going 6-4 ATS. Overall, this game will come down to Penn State’s ability to stop Benny Snell. If they can keep him under wraps, they’ll pull out a win. Penn State -6.5; Over 46.5
Local Expert Take: Lesley Van Arsdall, CBS 3
“Kentucky started off strong but regressed late in the season. They are all defense, so I do expect this to be a low-scoring game. Penn State has bowl history on their side. This is the fourth bowl game under James Franklin, all four bowl games have been decided by seven points or less. If Penn State defeats Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, Franklin’s squad will get to 10 wins for the third straight season. This will be the first time that has happened in Happy Valley since Joe Paterno did so in 1980, ’81 and ’82. Franklin is very aware of his team’s opportunity to make history and let me tell you, so are his players. I’m going with Penn State in this one.”