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Citrus Bowl preview: Key matchups and players to watch as Penn State takes on Kentucky

The matchup brings together a pair of 9-3 teams who last met 20 years ago in the Outback Bowl.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops in October.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops in October.Read moreBryan Woolston / AP

Penn State will hope to end its season on a high note when it takes on 9-3 Kentucky on New Years Day in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Here’s what you need to know about the matchup.

Citrus Bowl: Penn State vs. Kentucky

Tuesday at 1 p.m., Camping World Stadium, Orlando.

TV/radio: 6ABC; WNTP-AM (990); WNPV-AM (1440).

Records: Penn State, 9-3, ranked 12th in the College Football Playoff rankings; Kentucky, 9-3, ranked 14th.

Coaches: Penn State, James Franklin (fifth season, 45-20; career 69-35); Kentucky, Mark Stoops (sixth season, 35-39).

Bowl records: Penn State, 29-17-2; Kentucky, 8-9.

Series: Penn State leads, 3-2. The Nittany Lions last met Kentucky in the 1999 Outback Bowl and defeated the Wildcats, 26-14.

Players to watch

Kentucky: Benny Snell Jr., 5-11, 226, Jr., RB (1,305 yards rushing, 5.0 yards per carry, 14 touchdowns, first-team All-SEC); Josh Allen, 6-5, 260, LB (84 tackles, 14 sacks, 18 ½ tackles for losses, 5 forced fumbles, SEC defensive player of the year, AP first-team All-America); Terry Wilson, 6-3, 205, So., QB (67.6 completion percentage, 1,768 yards, 11 TDs, 10 interceptions); Lynn Bowden, 6-1, 195, So., WR (62 receptions, 661 yards, 5 TDs, second-team All-SEC); Mike Edwards, 6-0, 200, Sr., S (77 tackles, 9 tackles for losses, 2 interceptions); Bunchy Stallings, 6-3, 305, Sr., G (first-team AP All-America).

Penn State: Trace McSorley, 6-0, 201, Sr., QB (53.4 percent completion percentage, 2,284 yards, 16 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 723 rushing yards, 11 TDs, second-team All-Big Ten); Miles Sanders, 5-11, 215, Jr., RB (1,223 yards rushing, 5.9 yards per carry, 9 TDs, second-team All-Big Ten); K.J. Hamler, 5-9, 176, R-Fr., WR-KR (41 receptions, 713 yards, 5 TDs, 26.0-yard average on kickoff returns); Yetur Gross-Matos, 6-5, 259, So., DE (54 tackles, 8 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, first-team All-Big Ten); Amani Oruwariye, 6-1, 203, Sr., CB (49 tackles, 3 interceptions, 12 pass breakups, first-team All-Big Ten); Shareef Miller, 6-5, 260, Jr., DE (7 sacks, 14 tackles for losses, third-team All-Big Ten); Jake Pinegar, 6-2, 197, Fr., K (15-21 field goals, 50-52 extra points, 95 points).

Key matchups

McSorley against Allen. The Nittany Lions quarterback has shown consistent escapability in his three years as a starter, with an ability to scramble and take off when no receiver is open. But Allen has made a career of rushing and sacking quarterbacks and he’ll certainly be a threat. The Lions’ pass protectors must know where he is lined up at all times. Penn State also could put in an extra tight end to help with protection, or keep Sanders in to assist.

Hamler against Kentucky’s special teams. The redshirt freshman wide receiver has excelled on kickoff returns, ranking 17th in the nation with a 26.0-yard average, and helps out on punt returns. The Wildcats have done a good job of defending kickoffs (average of 17.73 yards allowed) but are near the bottom in limiting punt returns (13.06-yard average, 120th in FBS). One false move in coverage by Kentucky and Hamler is gone.


Kentucky is going for its 10th victory, a figure it reached only twice before, in 1950 and 1977. … A win for Penn State will mark the first time the Lions have won 10 games in three straight seasons since joining starting Big Ten competition in 1993. ... The Wildcats are playing in their first bowl game since the end of the 1998 season when they played Penn State in the Outback Bowl. … Penn State has played in a bowl game in all of James Franklin’s five seasons as head coach, sporting a 2-2 record going into Tuesday. … In his three previous bowl games, McSorley completed 66.0 percent of his passes for 738 yards and eight touchdowns.