Kentucky goes for its third consecutive bowl victory in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl against No. 24 North Carolina State on Saturday.
North Carolina State, meanwhile, is trying to close the season with five consecutive victories for the first time since 1965. The Wolfpack are 2 1/2-point underdogs, a number that got the attention of players and coaches this week. They plan to use it as motivation.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Kentucky goes for its third straight bowl victory. The Wildcats beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl two years ago and topped Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl last year. North Carolina State is trying to close the season with five consecutive victories for the first time since 1965.
NC State’s run defense, which ranked sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, against Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez. Rodriguez has 701 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kentucky: Senior LB Jamar “Boogie” Watson has 18 ½ career sacks. He needs half a sack more to pass Dennis Johnson (1998-2001) for fourth on the school’s all-time list.
NC State: LB Payton Wilson leads the ACC in tackles per game (10.8) and is the first Wolfpack player to do so since 2000. He ranks third in the Football Bowl Subdivision in tackles and was at his best in the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech, when he led the team with 11 tackles while playing with dislocated shoulders.
FACTS & FIGURES
Teams meeting for the first time since 1970. Kentucky won that one 28-2 in Lexington. … The Wildcats are playing in their fifth consecutive bowl. ... NC State is using its underdog role as motivation, feeling slighted despite a four-game winning streak. … NC State QB Bailey Hockman’s uncle, Ryan Hockman, played at Kentucky (1990-92). Ryan’s twin 13-year-old sons have been talking smack to Bailey all week. … NC State OC Tim Beck and Kentucky's Stoops were high school teammates at Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, Ohio. … Vince Marrow, Kentucky’s associate head coach, tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, will call plays in the game. Stoops fired OC Eddie Gran and QBs coach Darin Hinshaw after the team’s regular-season finale. Stoops hired Los Angeles Rams assistant Liam Coen to fill both roles in 2021.
The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl will air at noon, Saturday, Jan. 2 on ESPN.