No. 12 Penn State Comeback Falls Short in VRBO Citrus Bowl

by | Jan 2, 2019 | Headlines, RRSN News | 0 comments

No. 12 Penn State Comeback Falls Short in VRBO Citrus Bowl

McSorley breaks Penn State record for career quarterback rushing yards in finale


ORLANDO, Fla. – Quarterback Trace McSorley led a fourth-quarter comeback attempt in his final game as a Nittany Lion, but it was not enough as No. 14 Kentucky held off No. 12 Penn State, 27-24, in the VRBO Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day in Camping World Stadium.

Penn State (9-4) trailed by 20 points entering the fourth quarter, but McSorley rushed for one touchdown, threw for another and led a field goal drive. However, Kentucky (10-3) took possession of the ball with 4 minutes and 12 seconds remaining and left Penn State with just 1 second on offense. Running back Benny Snell Jr. rushed for 25 yards and two first downs on eight carries. The first downs were the first of the quarter for the Wildcats, as Penn State had held them to 11 total yards previously in the frame.


After stopping Kentucky in the waning seconds, the Nittany Lions could only run one play from their own 17, and a fumble on a lateral was recovered by Kentucky’s Chris Oats to secure the victory.


McSorley completed 17-of-33 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and was also the team’s leading rusher with 75 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Fellow senior DeAndre Thompkins was the team’s leading receiver with four receptions for 74 yards.


Snell led Kentucky with 144 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.


Defensively Josh Allen paced Kentucky with three sacks, while Micah Parsons registered a career-high 13 tackles and forced a fumble for Penn State. Additionally, Kevin Givens had two sacks for the Nittany Lions, tying a school bowl record.


Kentucky dominated the odd-numbered quarters, while Penn State dominated the even-numbered quarters. The Wildcats jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on a field goal and a Lynn Bowden Jr. 58-yard punt return before Penn State pulled within three in the second quarter on a McSorley pass to tight end Nick Bowers. Kentucky built its largest lead in the third quarter, 27-7, after a pair of Snell rushing touchdowns and another field goal. Penn State cut the deficit to three with 17 points in the fourth.


Keys and Difference Makers

Trace McSorley (PSU, QB)

McSorley totaled 321 yards of total offense, throwing for 246 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-33 passing and rushing for one touchdown and 75 yards on 19 carries. He was most successful in the fourth quarter, completing 8-of-12 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.


McSorley’s rushing effort secured him his 10th Penn State career record, as he became the school leader for career rushing yards by a quarterback with a total of 1,697, passing Michael Robinson’s 1,637 yards (2002-05). He came up just 8 yards short of Robinson’s single-season quarterback rushing record (806; 2005) with 798 yards for the year.


McSorley’s 2,530 passing yards for the season rank 10th in Penn State history and his 9,899 career passing yards rank sixth in Big Ten history. The senior quarterback became the first Penn Stater to attempt a pass in four bowl games, and his 246 yards passing in the game rank as the sixth-most in school history.


Special Teams

Kentucky returned a punt for a touchdown and another return set up a field goal to swing the game in its favor, overcoming a 410-297 deficit in total offense. It was PSU’s first allowed punt return touchdown since Northwestern’s Venric Mark in 2012.


Penn State Tight Ends

Both of McSorley’s touchdown passes were to tight ends, as Bowers caught Penn State’s second-quarter score and Freiermuth scored in the fourth. Bowers finished with three catches for 32 yards, while Freiermuth had two catches for 38 yards and a touchdown.


Ground Game

Kentucky totaled 176 rushing yards as a team, led by 144 from Snell, while Penn State totaled 164 rushing yards, led by McSorley’s 75 and running back Miles Sanders’ 51. Ricky Slade added 27 yards on four carries.



Both teams had strong defensive performances. Parsons’ game- and career-high 13 tackles paced a Nittany Lion unit that allowed just 297 yards of total offense. Givens had two of Penn State’s four sacks, with Tariq Castro-Fields (1.0), Shareef Miller (0.5) and C.J. Thorpe (0.5) also contributing.


Allen, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, had three of Kentucky’s six sacks, while Lonnie Johnson intercepted McSorley in the third quarter.


Both teams were stingy on third down as well, as Kentucky converted just 3-of-14 third downs while Penn State went 4-for-14.



Kentucky forced a three-and-out and stopped a Penn State fake punt on the game’s opening series, leading to a 28-yard field goal by Miles Butler.


The Wildcats forced another three-and-out, but Penn State punter Blake Gillikin tipped the field position battle in Penn State’s favor with a 71-yard punt to the Kentucky 3. Penn State linebacker Jan Johnson held Snell to one yard on third-and-2 to force a three-and-out, and Penn State started at its own 46 after a 42-yard punt. However, the Nittany Lions did not take advantage as kicker Jake Pinegar missed on a 40-yard field goal.


Penn State forced a three-and-out, but Max Duffy punted 67 yards to the Penn State 5-yard line. Kash Daniel sacked McSorley at the 2 to force a punt, and Bowden Jr. returned the punt 58 yards for a touchdown and 10-0 lead with 45 seconds remaining in the quarter.


Penn State cut the deficit back to 3 early in the second quarter. Hamler took a screen pass 41 yards to the Kentucky 1, and McSorley connected with Nick Bowers for a touchdown.


Penn State tried to tie the game late in the quarter, but a 36-yard field goal attempt was deflected by Allen at the line and it fell just short.


Kentucky received the kickoff to open the second half and drove 65 yards on six plays for a Snell touchdown. Snell opened the drive with a 32-yard run and capped it with a 2-yard run for a 17-7 lead. The Wildcats extended their lead to 27-7 with a field goal with 3:48 to go in the third quarter and another Snell touchdown with 1:35 to go in the frame. Snell’s touchdown was setup by the Johnson interception and a 54-yard reception by Bowden Jr.


Penn State answered with a touchdown on its next possession early in the fourth quarter, driving 75 yards on 10 plays. McSorley capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. After a three-and-out, the Nittany Lions drove 60 yards on six plays for an 18-yard Pat Freiermuth touchdown reception to make it a 27-21 game with 9:00 remaining. A 24-yard reception by Jahan Dotson and a 20-yard reception by Freiermuth keyed the drive.


After another three-and-out, Penn State drove 61 yards on 12 plays for a 32-yard field goal by Pinegar. Sanders kept the drive alive with a 13-yard run to the Kentucky 17 on third-and-10.


Kentucky was able to run out the clock though, as Snell picked up a pair of first downs on the ground to keep the clock moving.

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