NC State Wolfpack (8-3) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (4-6)
- Game Time: 12 pm EST on Saturday, January 2nd.
- Location: TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
- TV Channel: Today’s game can be seen on ESPN
- Announcers: Anice Shroff, Tom Luginbill, and Lericia Harris will be calling the action.
- Online Stream: Use WatchESPN or use a free trial of fuboTV to catch the game online.
- Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM, 98.1 FM in Lexington, and on the UK Sports Network.
- Odds: Kentucky opened as a 2.5 point favorite. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Kentucky a 56.5% chance of victory.
- Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
- Tickets: Buy here
- Rosters: UK | NCSU
- Weather: Cloudy and low 70s with very little chance of rain, according to covers.com.
- Predictions: TeamRankings projects the Cats to win 26-24, while numberFire projects a 21-20 victory for Kentucky.
For the fifth year in a row, the Kentucky Wildcats are going bowling. In a bookend of sorts for the fifth-year seniors, Kentucky is heading back to the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.
This time, the Cats will face off against the NC State Wolfpack.
It looks like Kentucky will have a fairly full, healthy roster heading into Jacksonville this weekend. JJ Weaver is out due to an ACL injury, and Kelvin Joseph has already opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Otherwise, the Wildcats will have their best guys on the field as they seek out their third consecutive bowl win in what’s also the fifth-straight bowl they’ve made under Mark Stoops, tying a school record.
NC State is in a similar boat. They have lost a few role players to transfer, but the one absent player that really hurts is free safety Tanner Ingle. Ingle was ejected from three games this season due to targeting, and the result of his most recent ejection is a suspension for the entirety of the Gator Bowl.
NC State finished the regular season with a record of 8-3. Their losses came to Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech (who Kentucky beat in the Belk Bowl last year). Their most notable wins were over Liberty, Pitt, and the shell of a program formerly known as Florida State.
Kentucky, of course, faced an SEC-only schedule and ended the year 4-6. However, four of Kentucky’s six losses were to teams that finished in the top eight of the College Football Playoff ranking (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Auburn). A bowl win would not get them back to .500, but it would be a great end to a trying season.
The Wolfpack is led offensively by junior quarterback Bailey Hockman, who is the nephew of former Kentucky quarterback Ryan Hockman.
The younger Hockman has thrown for 1,820 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, and he is completing nearly 64% of his passes.
The Wolfpack have four pass-catchers with 26+ grabs and 400+ receiving yards, so they can spread out opposing defenses.
Senior wide receiver Emeka Emezie leads the team in catches (42) and receiving yards (694) to go with five touchdown grabs.
Junior receiver Thayer Thomas is right behind him with 39 catches for 483 yards and six scores. Sophomore receiver Devin Carter has caught 26 balls for 442 yards and a pair of scores.
Senior tight end Cary Angeline has 27 grabs for 412 yards and six scores, which is tied with Thomas for the team-high in scoring grabs.
NC State is led in rushing by a duo of backs, Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person. Knight has 736 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, whereas Person has rushed for 635 yards and four touchdowns.
Overall, NC State is only 71st in the country in total offense with 391.5 yards per game. Depending on which Kentucky defense showed up, this could be a very low scoring game. Kentucky was 117th in total offense with 311.8 yards per game, but that was with Eddie Gran at the helm. With weeks to prepare and Vince Marrow calling the shots for the bowl game, the Wildcats offense could look very different on Saturday.
Terry Wilson will be starting at quarterback for the final time as a Wildcat, ending an underappreciated career where he has done things individually and as part of the team that very few quarterbacks have ever done. AJ Rose is looking to end his career on a high note as well, leaving Lexington as a top-10 rusher in school history.
The Wolfpack defense has not been impressive overall. However, they are tied for ninth in the country with 32 sacks. Senior defensive lineman Daniel Joseph leads the way with 6.5 sacks (tied for third in ACC) and is also tied for the team lead in tackles for a loss (9.5). Five other NC State defenders have at least three sacks.
For the Big Blue Wall, many of which are also in their last game as a Wildcat, this will be a tall task to keep Wilson’s jersey clean throughout the game.
As with most bowl games, the outcome of this one is almost impossible to predict. Despite the big difference in regular-season records, Kentucky and NC State match up very well on paper. It should be a close, low-scoring affair.
But with several weeks to prepare and the fact that neither team has played a game in almost a month, really anything can happen.