Ole Miss and Penn State will meet on the gridiron for the first time in their programs’ history on Saturday afternoon in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Ole Miss and Penn State will meet on the gridiron for the first time in their programs’ history on Saturday afternoon in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The sold out game will be televised from Mercedez Benz Stadium on ESPN, with kickoff at 11 am CST.
It will also be the first time Penn State, a two-time national champion, plays in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
While it will be uncharted territory for the two programs, they share a similar path to the “New Years Six” postseason game.
The Nittany Lions (10-2, 7-2 Big-10) only lost two games this season. Those losses came at the hands of the two best teams in the Big-Ten conference: Michigan and Ohio State.
The Rebels (10-2, 6-2) also lost two games this fall, to the two best teams in the SEC: Georgia and Alabama.
Just how good are the teams that defeated Ole Miss and Penn State? They have a combined record of 48-3. Not only that, two of the four, Michigan and Alabama, are in the CFP Playoffs playing for a National Championship.
Historically, the Rebels and Nittany Lions are two of just nine programs in the country with over a .600 winning percentage in bowl games. Penn State sits at .620, while Ole Miss is a .615.
Ole Miss and head coach Lane Kiffin have been busy as of late, recruiting both high school student athletes and the NCAA transfer portal. With the first window of signing day over, the Rebels have turned their attention to the Nittany Lions.
The Rebels, who were in a number of tight ballgames this fall, found ways to win all season behind the arm of Jaxson Dart, the legs of Quinshon Judkins and a bend, don’t break defense. The Rebels have an opportunity to win eleven games for the first time in the 129-year season history of Ole Miss football.
Lane Kiffin, who’s made plenty of history on his own, has no desire to leave as head coach anytime soon. He recently met with the media in Atlanta and praised both the Ole Miss administration and the current team.
“I’m very grateful to be hired here in the first place, four seasons ago,” Kiffin said.
“To get an extension, that didn’t change any of the financial situation, it just added length and commitment that this is where we want to be.”
Kiffin currently ranks second behind Ole Miss head coach Johnny Vaught, winning 68.75 percent of his games. When the Rebels kick it off, Kiffin will have led the Rebels to its second NY6 bowl game in his career in Oxford and the Rebels fourth since the inception of the CFP in 2014.
The “Kiffin Effect” continues for the Rebels, as earlier this season Kiffin became the second-fastest Ole Miss coach to 30 wins, breaking the record in just 44 games.
BY THE NUMBERS
Ole Miss will have its hands full. The Nittany Lions lead the nation in turnover margin, a whopping +18. Penn State’s defense gathered 12 interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries on the season.
The Rebels are ranked #12 in the country and lead the SEC with a total season turnover margin of +9. Ole Miss’ defense grabbed 12 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries. The offense, behind Dart and Judkins, has only turned the ball over seven times, good enough for first in the SEC and third in the country.
Heading into the game on Saturday, Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins is only the ninth running back in SEC history to rush for over 1,000 yards both his freshman and sophomore seasons. With 2,619 yards through his first two campaigns, Judkins ranks fifth in SEC history through two seasons. Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno is ahead of Judkins in fourth place with 2,734 yards, and is catchable with a good game.
Judkins, the Pike Road, Ala. Native, has 1,052 yards this season and 15 touchdowns to lead the Rebels on the ground.
The notable name for Penn State will be All-Big Ten DE Chop Robinson who will not play and begin preparation for the NFL Draft. As for the Rebels, only defensive end Cedric Johnson has said he does not intend on playing and elects to begin preparation for the NFL Draft.
AIR RAID REBELS
Ole Miss QB Jaxson Dart, who sits at fourth place in the SEC with 3,360 yards of total offense, has the privilege of throwing to a special group of wide receivers.
Dart has been the glue that has held the team together this season, with 2,985 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. The Southern Cal transfer has only thrown five interceptions, while adding seven rushing touchdowns and 377 yards on the ground.
The Rebels are one of three FBS programs with three receivers over 700 receiving yards. Pass catchers Dayton Wade, Tre Harris and Jordan Watkins have all fought through injuries all year. Harris, who was sidelined a large part of the season with a knee injury, was the only receiver in the country with a 200-yard receiving game and also recording four receiving touchdowns in a game.
Jordan Watkins? He played most of the season with a broken hand and grabbed 53 balls for 741 yards and three touchdowns.
All three transferred into the program.
The Rebels will have their hands full on Saturday, as the Penn State defense is ranked No. 1 in the nation, only allowing 11.4 points per game, with 48 sacks.
Ole Miss has had issues with its offensive line toward the end of the season. With a healthy Jaylen Williams back to help at left tackle, it’s good news for Ole Miss, but Micah Pettus remains out after suffering a season ending injury. loss of right tackle Micah Pettus due to a season ending injury.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Ole Miss has done a really good job protecting the football and it must do so to win on Saturday. Penn State always finds ways to make other teams turn the ball over.
Most importantly for Ole Miss, it must protect QB Jaxson Dart and do its best to control the line of scrimmage.
If Ole Miss can loosen up the Penn State linebackers with the pass, it should create running lanes for Ulysses Bentley and Judkins.
As for Penn State head coach James Franklin, who previously served as head coach at Vanderbilt, knows the significance of both conferences represented this year.
“Obviously the matchup between the Big Ten and the SEC, two of the most respected conferences in all of college football.”
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