Kentucky takes on sizzling NC State in Gator Bowl
By the end of the regular season, there were positive feelings for both No. 23 North Carolina State and Kentucky.
One of the teams will extend that good mood when they meet in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.
“It’s been a very trying year for all of us and our team is ready to move forward with a fifth straight bowl game,” said Mark Stoops, the first Kentucky coach to lead the Wildcats to five consecutive bowl appearances.
“We’ve invested a lot to this point,” said NC State coach Dave Doeren, whose team’s late-season push resulted in a national ranking. “It’s the last time this group will get to play together, and we wanted to have one more ride.”
Despite NC State (8-3) holding twice as many victories as Kentucky (4-6), the Wildcats were listed as early favorites in this bowl matchup. Four of Kentucky’s losses came to nationally ranked teams.
Both teams ended their regular seasons by winning on Dec. 5 — NC State topping Georgia Tech while Kentucky throttled South Carolina.
“We’re at 100 percent so the guys are all back and out there practicing and working hard and having some fun,” Stoops said of early bowl preparations.
“The energy is high,” Kentucky defensive end Josh Paschal said. “We’re just ready to get to the bowl game and get ready to play.”
NC State went 2-3 against nationally ranked opponents, though the Wolfpack didn’t face Atlantic Coast Conference championship game combatants Clemson or Notre Dame.
The Wolfpack closed the regular season with four consecutive victories — the team’s best such stretch to end a regular season since 2008.
NC State’s most recent bowl outing came two years ago in the Gator Bowl, where it was blown out by Texas A&M. The Wolfpack are 1-3 all-time in the Gator Bowl.
“We’re a different team this year,” said NC State safety Tyler Baker-Williams, who pointed out that he didn’t like the team sitting out the 2019 postseason. “We have a bigger chip on our shoulder. We’re just ready to show out.”
Kentucky lost four years ago to Georgia Tech in its lone Gator Bowl appearance.
“We hope to play better this go around,” Stoops said.
The Wildcats won against Virginia Tech in last year’s Belk Bowl (now named Duke’s Mayo Bowl) in Charlotte, N.C.
Albeit playing 10 conference games (rather than the normal eight), NC State set a school record by winning seven ACC games this year. In 2019, it was 1-7 in league play.
“I think the record speaks for itself on what we accomplished this year and the way we accomplished it,” Doeren said.
Linebacker Payton Wilson of NC State leads the ACC with 10.8 tackles per game. Wilson joined defensive lineman Alim McNeill as All-ACC first-team selections.
Kentucky’s lone All-SEC first-team selection was senior center Drake Jackson.
The Kentucky-NC State series is tied 1-1. NC State won in 1909 at home and Kentucky won in 1970 at home.
–Field Level Media