Passing: This season has been all about Senior Trace McSorely who has handled all but a couple snaps for the Nittany Lions. While he’s been phenomenal at home, his numbers are somewhat more usual at home. He averages 2 full yards less per attempt on the road with a few more attempts. At home, he’s a blistering 5:1 touchdowns to interceptions, but again, on the road it’s more like 2:1. The touchdown numbers are not vastly different, but the interception numbers are much worse in the road.
Rushing: The rushing numbers are very similar with the exception of touchdowns. Surprisingly, they actual score touchdowns at a higher rate on the road. This is true, even despite the additional 4 attempts per game at home. Penn State seems to be largely matchup-proof in their rushing game averaging almost the exact same for yards gained per attempt.
Passing: There’s very small differences between home and away splits for passing defense. They allow 0.3 less yards per attempt on the road, but really the only other difference is the number of attempts they face. They face 10 additional attempts on the road, the yardage differential is minimal. Even the touchdowns against and interceptions are basically the same after accounting for the difference in games played.
Rushing: Despite all of their other strengths, the rushing defense on the road is definitely a concern. On the road they are averaging 1.33 yards per rush more allowed and conceding nearly double the touchdowns in two less games. However, perhaps the one caveat is that the Nittany Lions are facing 13 additional rushing attempts on the road.
Passing: The Wildcats have a slight dip in completion percentage (66.7% to 65%) however the numbers are great either way. They average 0.5 yards more per attempt on the road along with an increased number of touchdowns and interceptions. They also tend to pass more on the road, about 7 additional attempts per game.
Rushing: The rushing game might have bad enough splits to call it an offensive liability on the road. The numbers per carry are not hugely different, only about 0.3 less on the road. However, the touchdown numbers are polar opposites. Kentucky is averaging almost 3 rushing touchdowns per game at home, and just barely over 1 on the road. I’ll caveat this with that they do reduce the number of carries by about 6.5 on the road, but not enough to account for the rushing splits.
Passing: The Wildcat pass defense forces a substantial 6% drop in completion percentage on the road. However, they tend to give up more yardage leading to an extra 0.8 per attempt. They also have one-third the number of interceptions on the road (2) as opposed to home (6). Now it’s likely that some of this variation can be explained by the difference in the number of games, but there’s still definitely less.
Rushing: The rush defense suffers from none of the road team problems as the offense does. The numbers are very similar home and away, with a slight improvement on the road with touchdowns allowed. They allow about 0.5 yards per carry more on the road but it doesn’t amount to anything substantial. There isn’t really a difference (+/- 1) as far as rushing attempts.
The game is played at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida with kickoff at 10a PST/ 1p EST). The neutrals are expecting about 50 points to be scored, and indicate that Penn State are touchdown favorites.
Keys to a win for each side
- Stem the flow. I touched on it briefly in the rushing defense section for this Penn State side, but if I’m Kentucky, I am licking my lips. They might end up canceling each other out, because neither team is good here. If Penn State can find a way to enlist some help from the crowd and build a wall on the line of scrimmage — it will definitely help the defense prepare for the pass game.
- Run Forrest, Run. This is a great opportunity for Penn State to control the game from the first whistle. The run game is good, and Kentucky’s rush defense has been marginal. Keeping in mind McSorely’s dramatic interception increase I see no reason not to lean heavily on the road-efficient rush game.
- McSwitch. I don’t want to say use Trace McSorely as a decoy, but I think he has huge potential to stretch the field for the Nittany Lions. They need to make sure they don’t force things in the passing game — any completions at all will offset Kentucky’s ability to stack the box. Plus, if you can get McSorely into a low-pressure passing situation, I back him to find some nice holes in the defensive coverage.
- Find a way through. Kentucky really needs to find a way to get some help in the rushing side. And I’m not just talking yardage, they need to present themselves as a legitimate running threat. Without doing this, I see relentless pressure from the Penn State defensive line. I also think that this yields more interceptions because of the crazy amounts of pressure. This might be one of the most important keys for the Wildcats.
- Go Long. The Wildcats pass game is markedly better on the road, and once they can establish the run game — they need to take advantage of it, fully. They do average a slightly higher interception rate on the road, but I think the Wildcats will need to air it out. If they can get some momentum here, it will further help alleviate pressure on the run game.
- Build the wall. Penn State averages about 30% more points per game than the Wildcats. The Wildcats will need to stifle the scoring to stay in this one. I think they have the ability, but they’ll need to be devoted on ever single play. I also think the Wildcats chances of success go up wildly in a low scoring affair.