Miles Sanders

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CFT Previews: VRBO Citrus Bowl

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WHO: No. 12 Penn State (9-3) vs. No. 14 Kentucky (9-3)
WHAT: The 73rd VRBO Citrus Bowl
WHEN: 1:00 p.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
THE SKINNY: Kentucky is going for the first 10-win season in school history in over three decades. Penn State is looking for a third-straight double-digit win season for the first time since joining the Big Ten. Something will have to give as both Kentucky and Penn State see the final games played by some influential playmaker in a college uniform.

Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen has collected a good amount of hardware this past awards season as he cements his legacy as one of the top defensive players to ever wear a Kentucky uniform. Playing one final game rather than sit out to focus on the NFL Draft is a testament to how much Allen wants to help the Wildcats accomplish a rare feat of a 10-win season before he moves on to the next level. He will be tasked to making sure Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley doesn’t get opportunities to make big plays with his arm or his legs. McSorley has been banged up this season but the time off before the bowl game may have helped get him closer to being the player Penn State needs him to be. With backup quarterback Tommy Stevens not available due to offseason surgery, it will be McSorley or bust for the Nittany Lions.

The running back matchup with Kentucky’s Benny Snell and Penn State’s Miles Sanders should be fairly even and just as much of a factor in the outcome of this game. Neither defense has a way of shutting everything down against the run so Snell and Sanders could have some opportunities to do some damage. But in the end, Penn State may have the edge of their receivers and tight ends keep their hands on the football.

THE LINE: Penn State -7.0
THE PREDICTION: Penn State 34, Kentucky 26

No. 20 Penn State overcomes big day from Jonathan Taylor to beat Wisconsin

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Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor provided the first highlight of the day and had another strong day on the ground, but Miles Sanders provided similar production on the ground as No. 20 Penn State (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) sent the Badgers home with a 22-10 loss. The loss makes any chance of winning the Big Ten West even more of a challenge for Wisconsin with just two games to play.

Sanders carried the football 22 times for 161 yards and a touchdown to pace the Penn State offense. Trace McSorley left the game late in the first half after medical trainers had to look at his right knee on the field, but the Penn State senior captain returned in the second half to polish off a hard-fought win at home.

Taylor ripped off a 71-yard touchdown run on the third snap of the game for the Wisconsin offense, and Taylor continued to grind out yardage on the ground and make a few more sizable runs against the Nittany Lions. But Penn State’s defense, led by Shareef Miller, was up to the task and handled backup quarterback Jack Coan by forcing Wisconsin into a position where throwing the ball had to be the way to make a comeback. Coan was intercepted once on the 20 passes he attempted as Wisconsin seemed to think their biggest home run threat would come on the ground in the hands of Taylor.

Coan started the game for Wisconsin in place of Alex Hornibrook, who was questionable all week with a head injury, a problem that has been consistent in recent weeks.

With the loss, Wisconsin fails to make up any ground on Northwestern this week. The Wildcats, who lead the Big Ten West, play at Iowa today and have an opportunity to open up a massive lead in the division with a win in Iowa City. Wisconsin must win their remaining two games and hope Northwestern drops their next three games beginning today.

Wisconsin will look to rebound on the road again next week with a trip to Purdue. Penn State will play their final road game of the year next week at Rutgers. A chance at winning 10 games this season is still in the mix for Penn State. James Franklin’s program must win their remaining two regular season games and their bowl game in order to pull off a third straight 10-win season for the first time in Penn State history since 1980-1982.

Trace McSorley injured again as Penn State leads Wisconsin at halftime

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Wisconsin is without starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook, and Penn State once again has a concern about the health of its starting quarterback. Trace McSorley was helped off the field with an apparent knee injury late in the first half of a home game against the Badgers with Penn State leading Wisconsin 16-7. Tommy Stevens has come on to fill in for McSorley as Penn State takes a 16-7 lead into the halftime break.

Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor got right to work on the first offensive series of the game for the Badgers by ripping off a 71-yard run on a 3rd & 2 to put Wisconsin on the board with the first score of the game. But it was all Penn State from there as the Nittany Lions scored 16 straight points to take a 16-7 lead.

McSorley completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Thompkins on the ensuing drive after Taylor’s long touchdown run. After Wisconsin fumbled the ball when quarterback Jack Coan seemed to mishandle an exchange, the Nittany Lions took the lead on a 49-yard field goal by Jake Pinegar. Penn State added to their lead in the second quarter with a short Miles Sanders touchdown run with a leap over the pile to cross the goal line, but a missed extra point attempt kept the game a single-digit deficit.

At one point midway through the second quarter, Penn State had 12 first downs to just two for the Badgers. Struggles on third down had slowed Wisconsin’s offense, although that should be credit to the Penn State defense with pressure coming up front from Shareef Miller.

Wisconsin needs to figure something out for the second half as they need a win to remain close enough to Northwestern in the Big Ten West standings to have a shot at winning the division. Being unable to come back in this game would make it incredibly tough for Wisconsin to play in the Big Ten championship game for a third consecutive year. Penn State will be unable to win the Big Ten East but is in position to end the year with 10 wins in a bowl game if they can hold on to this one. Second halves of games at home have not been too kind to Penn State, so this one is still up for grabs.

No. 17 Penn State finds a way to win a close one at home by holding off No. 18 Iowa

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No. 17 Penn State (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) lost their last two games at home despite having a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. As Penn State took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter against No. 18 Iowa (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) in Beaver Stadium on Saturday, the Nittany Lions once again had to avoid a fourth-quarter collapse to get a win. Perhaps the third time was the charm for Penn State.

Penn State held on for a 30-24 win, holding Iowa off the scoreboard on their final two possessions of the game, including the last possession of the game as the clock expired.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley left the game for a couple of possessions in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury, but he returned in the second quarter for a quick series and was back for the remainder of the game after halftime. A 51-yard touchdown run by McSorley early in the third quarter let everyone know he was feeling just fine.

Tommy Stevens filled in for McSorley in his absence and scored a game-tying touchdown for the Nittany Lions in a messy first half immediately following a big interception return by John Reid.

It was quite a messy first half of football too. Iowa scored 17 points in the most Iowa way imaginable; two safeties as Penn State sailed snaps over the punter’s head, two field goals, and a touchdown thrown by a punter to a defensive lineman on a fake field goal. Iowa also had some luck with fumbles with three forced fumbles by Penn State all recovered by the Hawkeyes. Penn State’s defense did a good job of not letting Iowa do much on offense, but the Hawkeyes finally got tight end Noah Fant involved in the fourth quarter after never finding a way to get him open before that.

As Fant settled in and Nate Stanley got a bit more comfortable, Iowa applied pressure on Penn State with a chance to grab the lead. But confusion at the line of scrimmage with Stanley and Fant led to an interception just outside the goal line with Iowa trailing by six. Penn State was unable to wrap up the game even though Iowa ran out of timeouts on the ensuing possession, but the Hawkeyes had one more chance. It appeared Iowa could have moved into Penn State territory in the final minute, but a catch on the field was overturned by video review.

Penn State will be on the road next week against Michigan. The Wolverines have not lost since their season-opening loss at Notre Dame and Michigan is the only unbeaten team left within Big Ten play, putting them in first place in the Big Ten East. The home team has won in blowout fashion each of the last two years in this series, and Penn State will have a lot to clean up if they are going to avoid allowing that trend to continue.

Iowa falls into a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten West with Wisconsin and Purdue. All three lost on Saturday, and Northwestern now sits alone atop the Big Ten West Division after their home win against the Badgers. But Iowa still has the opportunity to seize some control of the division’s fate with their next two games. Iowa visits Purdue next week and then hosts Northwestern. If Iowa can win each of those two games and avoid a head-to-head tie with Wisconsin at the end of the season, they will play for the Big Ten championship. In short, the next few weeks in the Big Ten West should be very interesting.

Déjà vu all over again for No. 8 Penn State as Michigan State stuns Nittany Lions with late score

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Michigan State did it again. For the second year in a row, the Spartans (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) stunned No. 8 Penn State (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) with a fourth-quarter rally and late go-ahead score to hand the Nittany Lions a bitter loss in the first game Penn State played after losing to Ohio State by one point.

Brian Lewerke underthrew a pass to Felton Davis on a third-and-two, but Davis was ready for it, broke a tackle and then broke the hearts of Penn State fans gathering in Beaver Stadium for homecoming. Davis’ touchdown grab came with 19 seconds to play, giving Michigan State a stunning 21-17 lead on the Nittany Lions. All that was left was for the Michigan State special teams unit to prevent KJ Hamler from a big kickoff return (they did) and for the defense to hold on for the final 13 seconds of the game. They did.

Penn State didn’t play their best game of the year, and Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio going into his bag of tricks caught the Nittany Lions off guard a few times. But a fourth-quarter decision to attempt a fake field goal came up empty for the Spartans and their hopes of celebrating a big win in Big Ten East play. Brian Lewerke‘s pass over the middle to Raequan Williams appeared to be there for the taking, but the pass fell incomplete for a turnover on downs.

Earlier in the game, Michigan State had successfully executed a fake punt and followed it up with a running back pass to lead to a touchdown. A few trick plays were needed to light a spark for the Spartans, who were a bit short-handed on offense. Penn State’s offense was not much better. The Nittany Lions struggled on third-down conversions and had a missed field goal and Penn State was flagged for six penalties for 41 yards. Outside of a couple of big runs by Miles Sanders, the Spartans defense fared well enough to keep the pressure on Penn State all afternoon.

Trace McSorley and Lewerke each had a rough game in terms of completing passes. McSorley, in particular, did not look like himself after a career game against the Buckeyes, from the ball slipping out of his hand on a pass to making an odd decision to run out of bounds late in the fourth quarter to stop the clock without forcing Michigan State to use a timeout. That inability for Penn State to kill off more than 11 seconds on their last offensive possession with the lead proved to be critical, as was a missed field goal earlier.  Michigan State’s game-winning drive started at their 24-yard line with 1:10 to play, and the Spartans scored with fewer than 20 seconds remaining.

The win helps keep Michigan State in the discussion for the Big Ten championship with games still to play against Michigan (next week) and Ohio State down the line. The loss knocks Penn State out of the running for the Big Ten East once again, and the fight just to get back to a New Years Six bowl game may have taken a tough blow as well, although that could still be a possibility if Penn State can turn things around.

Penn State will take to the road for the second time in Big Ten play next week when they visit Indiana. Michigan State will return home next week for a big game against in-state rival Michigan.