Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs Penn State
By George Somerville
Bowl Season continues! 84 teams, 42 matchups, 35 different cities; if you thought the College Football postseason was restricted to the four teams in the playoffs, think again. In this game preview, we turn our attention to the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl :
Where and When
Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl Bowl
Location: Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Date: 30th December 2023
Time: 12:00pm (ET)
Story so far…
It has been a season of “so near, yet so far” for Ole Miss and Penn State.
Expectations at the start of the season were high. Ole Miss were seen as contenders for the SEC West along with LSU who were reigning West Champions.
In the BIG10, the Nittany Lions were expected to break the dominance of Michigan and Ohio State.
Ole Miss suffered their two losses in a 10-2 season in conference, to Georgia and Alabama. The highlight of the season being a 55-49 win over LSU.
It was an eerily similar situation 959 miles North. A 10-2 season was marred by losses to Ohio State and Michigan.
Which is what makes this Peach Bowl so intriguing. Amazingly, Penn State head coach James Franklin finds himself under pressure. Which seems ridiculous after a 10-2 season.
This is the 2nd 10-win season for Lane Kiffin which marks a step change in Ole Miss’ ability to challenge in the SEC.
So a win for either of these teams endorses the excellent jobs each head coach is doing.
It is also essential fuel for the recruiting engine. In fact fuel might be an understatement. Rocket fuel perhaps.
Like expectations for his team, hopes were high that Drew Allar was the missing piece of the puzzle. Allar’s first year in Happy Valley was good, finishing the year with 2,336 yards passing, 23 touchdowns, and only one interception. So why was that good and not great? Fairly or unfairly those closest to the program – fans and pundits alike, said there was more to come from the Sophomore from Ohio. The one interception suggesting that the coaching staff had him on a short lease – which doesn’t suggest that they mismanaged the situation, far from it. It also should fill Penn State fans with confidence for next season. But first the Peach Bowl, where Allar can unleash those explosive plays the fans want.
The one thing that Ole Miss QB Jaxson Dart can’t be accused of, is lacking explosive plays. Dart might be the perfect fit for a Lane Kiffin offense.
So far in the season Dart is 208 from 318 attempts giving him a completion percentage of 65.4%. Dart has thrown for 2,985 yards, 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Given Dart’s dual-threat nature it’s no surprise he has 377 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns.
While Kiffin is confident of Dart’s return in 2024, it remains to be seen whether the young Utahn feels the call of the NFL to be too strong.
But back to the Peach Bowl. How Dart plays is the key to a Rebels victory.
Prospects to watch…
Unlike some other Bowl participants, Ole Miss and Penn State will be close to full strength when they face off in Atlanta. Which leaves me spoiled for choice when highlighting prospects to watch.
Quinshon Judkins – Running Back
It was always going to be difficult for Judkins to live up to what was a sensational freshman year. In his debut year in Oxford, Judkins rushed for over 1,500 with 16 touchdowns. This season so far, Judkins has 15 rushing scores and just over 1,000 yards at 4.4 per carry. Hardly a Sophomore slump in anyone’s eyes. Simply put, in this explosive offense, Kiffin puts the ball in Judkins’ hands when he wants to move the chains. Simples.
Tre Harris – Wide Receiver
Dart’s other main target is wide receiver, Tre Harris. Harris is the Rebels’ leading receiver with 851 yards and eight touchdowns. His 47 receptions averaging 18.1 yards per reception. This is very impressive given that Harris is one of three receivers who share plays and who collectively average 14 yards per catch, ranking them top 10 nationally.
Olu Fashanu – Offensive Lineman
Excuse my artistic licence here. Fashanu has travelled to Atlanta with the team but the jury is definitely out if he will play or not. Following Fashanu’s draft declaration last week there is a real chance that Fashanu won’t suit up in this game. But such is the big guys talent, it seem egregious that his name isn’t mentioned as a prospect to watch.
Fashanu was projected as a top 10 draft pick last season but elected to stay and graduate at Penn State. This has not held his draft stock back one bit, with draft analysts projecting the left tackle as a top 5 pick.
Nicholas Singleton – Running Back
The Nittany Lions offense is heavily dependent on the run game. Nicholas Singleton burst onto the scene last year and has followed his freshman season with a fantastic sophomore year.
This season Singleton has had 163 carries for 702 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He has also had 22 receptions for 222 yards and one touchdown.
Between Singleton and fellow running back Kaytron Allen, they helped the Nittany Lions average 186.7 rushing yards per game in 2023 which is what the Rebels need to halt if they are to win this game.
This might be one of the harder games to predict. BIG10 experts are quick to point out that the Ole Miss defense is not of the same quality as Michigan or Ohio State. This may be true but this is ignoring the work that first year defensive co-ordinator Pete Golding has done since his move from Alabama. Also, remember that Penn State defensive co-ordinator, Manny Diaz has left to take up the head coach job at Duke and James Franklin fired his offensive co-ordiator mid season.
So could this clash of high power offences come down to the team who’s defense holds up better? It certainly will be a key part of the game.
Vegas has Penn State as a one score favourite in this match up with the over at 49.5. I reckon the high tempo Ole Miss offense puts the Nittany Lions on the back foot from the off and come back to Oxford with a bowl full of peaches.
Ole Miss 31-21 Penn State
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.