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12 Days of Bowlmas: Penn State looks a lot like Mississippi State

Kentucky and Penn State have met on the gridiron just five times, and only once since 1978, yet the Nittany Lions look like a familiar foe.

“They’re a really good defense,” said UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.  “In a couple categories, they’re top five in sacks, tackles for loss.  They move around well and remind you of an SEC-type defense.  They’re really physical and they do a hack of a job.  We’ll have to play really well and make sure we’re physical.  We’re going to have to finish and strain.”

To be exact, who is the SEC defense Eddie Gran is talking about?  “Mississippi State,” Mark Stoops affirmed without hesitation.

There’s a good reason why the two look similar.  The top dog in Starkville, Joe Moorhead, called the Penn State offense for two years before landing the job at Miss. State.  Moorhead’s current defensive coordinator, Bob Shoop, served in the same position for James Franklin at Vanderbilt and at Penn State for two years.

“They’re a lot like Mississippi State in a lot of ways,” said Kash Daniel.  “They’re really big and athletic.  Their offensive line can move good, quarterback can move good.  They’ve got really powerful backs.  The tight ends can move and block well.  It’s kind of like Mississippi State, with their own twist.  There’s a couple things that are not exactly how Miss. State attacked us.  There’s a couple things in there that are a little bit different, but the concepts are the same.”

Schematically, the two teams don’t look so different.  What makes them mirror images is their personnel.

Penn State doesn’t have a Jeffrey Simmons or a Montez Sweat in their front four, but Yetur Gross-Matos isn’t far behind the future first round NFL draft picks.  Gross-Matos has recorded eight sacks (7th in the Big Ten) and 20 tackles for loss (2nd in Big Ten).  Penn State’s powerful front four is largely responsibly for their top 20 scoring defense.  They rank fourth nationally in sacks and seventh in tackles for loss.

Offensively, it’s hard to look at Trace McSorley without seeing a lot of Nick Fitzgerald.  Each quarterback can move the offense down the field using their arm and legs.  Fitzgerald is five inches taller, but aside from that, they are eerily similar on paper.

McSorley

Stat

Fitzgerald

2284 (6.9)

Passing Yards (YPA)

1615 (6.5)

16

Passing TDs

15

53.4%

Completion %

52.6%

6

Interceptions

7

723 (4.8)

Rushing Yards (YPC)

1018 (5.1)

11

Rushing TDs

12

Kentucky has prepared for quarterbacks like McSorley before.  Even when they aren’t preparing for one, they see one everyday in practice.

“The fact that Terry puts pressure on you with his arms and his feet obviously helps us,” said defensive coordinator Matt House.

There is one outlier between Penn State and Mississippi State: rush defense.  The Nittany Lions rank 70th nationally at stopping the run, surrendering 168.4 yards per game.  The number is comparable to Florida’s rush defense, a unit that surrendered 303 yards to Kentucky.  It’s music to Benny Snell’s ears.

“It’s all going to start off on our edge, how we approach the game.  It’s going to be a big game,” Benny Snell said.  “They got some NFL guys.  That’s a fact.  It’s definitely going to be a battle, but it’s very similar to Mississippi State on who’s their game-changers on defense, where their weakness are at, so it’s going to be exciting.”

Kentucky’s most dominant performance of the year was a rainy 28-7 victory over Mississippi State at Kroger Field.  Benny’s most memorable moment from his time as a Wildcat, the UK running back scored four touchdowns and rushed for 165 yards in the statement win.  To replicate that kind of performance, it all starts up front.

“What we did against Mississippi State is we out-physicaled them.  That’s something that’s going to be a huge emphasis for us,” said C.J. Conrad.  “We have about a month to get healthy.  I think that was a big importance.  People asked us if we lost our edge offensively.  I think a lot of it just had to do with us being beat up.  Throughout the year that happens.  For us to have this break, get healthy and get back into the weight room, I think we can replicate that kind of performance.”

If Kentucky brings a Mississippi State-like performance to the Citrus Bowl, 2019 will be a very Happy New Year for the Big Blue Nation.

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Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

13 Comments for 12 Days of Bowlmas: Penn State looks a lot like Mississippi State



  1. cats646
    1:15 pm December 21, 2018 Permalink

    They aren’t near as physical as Mississippi state.



  2. az1006
    3:02 pm December 21, 2018 Permalink

    I fully expect the Citrus Bowl version of the Cats to more resemble the version we saw in September than November. The layoff and our ability to get healthy is the biggest key there. Offensively, we started to click a bit more after the debacle in Knoxville, and I think that will carry over too.

    And a point that is largely going unnoticed that Vince Morrow touched on…A lot of our guys are from Big Ten country. You can bet they’ll be up to play against a Big Ten blue-blood like Penn State.

    It will be a battle, there’s no question. But I expect a very strong effort from our guys, and I think the Cats win



    • jaws2
      4:50 pm December 21, 2018 Permalink

      We played absolutely NO ONE after TN!! Clicking against MTS and uOFsmell meant nothing. If we couldn’t move the ball against them, we couldn’t move it against Male HS!!
      Hopefully they’ve gained some confidence, but moving against those two really didn’t show any great overall improvement.



    • mashburnfan1
      2:41 am December 22, 2018 Permalink

      Agree we can’t say we did well after the UT game, in fact the MTSU game was not a good performance and everyone scored 1000 points vs U. I do feel we are the better team but we have Eddie Gran and that will equal things or give PSU the advantage like it did for every team this year. Will be there regardless and hope the players can overcome the play calling, the D can get its swag back and we start 2019 with a W. Plus the Seniors and Benny really deserve to leave on a winning note after all they have done for UK.



    • mashburnfan1
      2:42 am December 22, 2018 Permalink

      1000 points vs U6



    • Kentuckiana
      9:10 am December 22, 2018 Permalink

      We played “decent” last year in the bowl game after a rest and without Benny.
      We will be just fine after the rest.
      We should be a bit more motivated than Penn State in this game.
      CATS WIN !!!!



  3. henderblue
    4:10 pm December 21, 2018 Permalink

    Look forward to a great game from a healthy and rested offensive line. I believe what CJ said. We were beat up mid-season



  4. Cincy Cayt
    10:32 pm December 21, 2018 Permalink

    Then we should whoop em



  5. J. Did
    8:12 am December 22, 2018 Permalink

    GO CATS!



  6. Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
    10:10 am December 22, 2018 Permalink

    Rumor is Penn St just paid a butt load to get a certain ref from a certain bowl to call the game. And apparently the first thing he intends to do is give Benny a yellow flag inducing hug.



    • runningunnin.454
      11:13 am December 22, 2018 Permalink

      Benny probably get his money’s worth next time…lead with the helmet.



    • Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
      7:15 pm December 22, 2018 Permalink

      Right under the jaw…