The 2021 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl kicks off at 12pm ET on January 2 in Jacksonville, FL. The No.23 NC State Wolfpack take on the Kentucky Wildcats. It is the third meeting all time, tied at 1-1. We’ll take a look at the teams here.
No.23 NC State Wolfpack (8-3)
Dave Doeren is on the cusp of his third nine win season in four years. He’s had NC State rolling and this year was no exception. The Wolfpack were on the right side of a lot of close games this year as they were 4-1 in games decided by one possession or less.
The Wolfpack are sound offensively averaging 31.1 points per game. Quarterback Bailey Hockman dealt with some injury early on but has since been healthy. He’s certainly vulnerable to the interception. Bailey had a string of five consecutive games with an interception and has eight total on the season.
Defense has been an issue at times, allowing 29.7 points per game. They’re better against the run versus the pass which matches them up nicely against run heavy Kentucky. Linebacker Payton Wilson has been a force all season with 108 tackles to go with 3.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Kentucky Wildcats (4-6)
Kentucky got off to a slow start with tough losses to Auburn and Ole Miss but got back to 2-2 with dominant wins over Mississippi State and Tennessee. Offensive struggles plagued them down the stretch though and they finished 4-6.
The offense has been one of the worst in the SEC, particularly on the passing end. The Wildcats average 21.7 points per game and are way behind the league in passing yards at a staggering 124.1 yards per game.
The ground game is their main weapon led by sophomore runningback Chris Rodriguez Jr. He leads the team with 701 yards and nine touchdowns. He shares some of the load with Asim Rose Jr. who has 518 yards of his own. The quarterback Terry Wilson who has been more effective with his legs this year than his arm with 410 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Kentucky has a favorable matchup with their defense that excels at stopping the pass. They allow an SEC best 220.3 yards per game. Kelvin Joseph leads the team with four interceptions in the secondary. Linebacker Jamin Davis leads the team with 89 tackles and is second with two interceptions of his own.
If Kentucky wants to beat NC State they’re going to need a lot of help from their defense. They’ll need to win the turnover battle to give their lack of offense a lot of opportunities to make a big play. Without that, NC State’s good offense and strong rush defense should be enough to get the win.
NC State: 29, Kentucky: 24
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