Heading into a bowl game at the end of a grueling season, the health of key players is always a question. Then when you add COVID-19 into the mix, there is a lot of uncertainty about who could be available to play come bowl time.
However, it looks like both Kentucky and NC State are coming in relatively healthy.
The Wildcats only had one player opt out, and that was defensive back Kelvin Joseph. JJ Weaver is sidelined due to a knee injury.
Then came word down Friday night that Cedric Dort Jr. won’t play, though it’s unclear why the starting cornerback will be out.
Unfortunately I wont be playing in this last game with my brothers but they know the love real, lets get this Dub #BBN— Cbdjrp (@CedrickDjr) January 2, 2021
With Joseph and Dort not playing, Kentucky will likely have one of their true freshmen corners — Andru Phillips or Carrington Valentine — starting in the Gator Bowl.
Otherwise, everyone else is set to suit up. The only lingering issue for a major player seems to be a minor hand injury for Josh Paschal. But based on what he has been through, a small hand injury is nothing.
NC State, on the other hand, will be missing a few defensive stars. Their leading tackler, Payton Wilson, as well as linebacker Drake Thomas, will both be unavailable due to injury. Free safety Tanner Ingle will also be out with a targeting suspension.
Wilson, Thomas and Ingle have combined for 199 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, two interceptions (both by Wilson) and 6.5 sacks. That’s a ton of defensive production that will be missing Saturday against a Kentucky offense that needs all the help it can get.
While depth was a concern for every team this season due to rigid testing guidelines, it looks like no players will be ineligible due to COVID-19 protocols. Mark Stoops has said that none of Kentucky’s players or staff tested positive before heading to Jacksonville, and we have heard nothing different from NC State.
With the game being less that 24 hours away, it seems likely that none of this will change. It should be a matchup between the best that the Kentucky Wildcats and the NC State Wolfpack have to offer. We will find out who is more prepared at noon on Saturday.