Ole Miss, Penn State ready for Peach Bowl showdown

Published 8:56 pm Thursday, December 28, 2023

Expect a large Ole Miss presence in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday when the no. 11 ranked Rebels (10-2) take on the no. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2) in the 2023 Peach Bowl. The game is a sellout with after-market tickets running around $100 after fees to get in the door.

Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. CST and the game will be televised on ESPN.

It’s been a season to remember as Ole Miss enters the bowl game with its only losses coming to playoff team Alabama (12-1) and Georgia (12-1).

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A win would give the Rebels their first 11-win season in program history.

Ole Miss recently announced that head coach Lane Kiffin has signed a contract extension.

The Rebels come into the matchup with Penn State sporting one of the most dynamic offenses in the nation. Led by quarterback Jaxson Dart, the Ole Miss offense is one of the fastest in the country.

Nationally, much has been written over the last two weeks when it comes to the wins by Ole Miss in the transfer portal. Kiffin and his staff generated buzz last year via the portal when they signed a pair of experienced quarterbacks, Spencer Sanders (Oklahoma State) and Walker Howard (LSU), to compete for the job against Dart.

Dart responded by going 208-of-318 this season for 20 touchdowns and 2,985 yards. He’s cut down his interceptions from 11 last season to five thus far in 2023. Dart threw for a season high 389 yards in a memorable win over LSU in Oxford.

Ole Miss has now appeared in a bowl game to end the season in all four years under Kiffin’s leadership.

Kiffin took Ole Miss to an Outback Bowl win over Indiana in his debut season of 2020. The 2021 Rebels went 10-3 and lost to the Baylor Bears in the Sugar Bowl. Last season the Rebels were beaten 42-25 by Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl.

To break that bowl losing streak, the Rebels are going to have to get past a Penn State squad that is led by its defense. The Nittany Lions are a 3.5-point favorite coming into the game.

The PSU defense will be without one of its biggest starts as defensive lineman Chop Robinson opted out of the game to prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft.

Penn State also lost its defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, during the run up to the bowl. The former Miami head coach left Happy Valley to take over as the next head coach at Duke.

Penn State led the country in total defense, first downs allowed, yards per play, sacks per game and total sacks. The Nittany Lions set a school record with 48 sacks this season.

Like Ole Miss, Penn State only has losses to top notch competition.

The Nittany Lions lost 20-12 on the road at Ohio State (11-1) and 24-15 at home to Michigan (13-0).

Not to sound too cliché, but the Nittany Lions of the Big 10 will want to play ball-control offense in keeping Ole Miss off the field.

Penn State comes in as a top 10 team in time of possession, holding the ball for just over 33 minutes per game. Ole Miss, who hopes to eat up chunks of yard via explosive plays, has had the ball for just 27:14 minutes per game.

The Rebel’s defense has had its own significant opt-out as edge rusher Cedric Johnson will not suit up in the game. He too is preparing for the draft.

Penn State head coach James Franklin fired offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich following the loss to Michigan.

Franklin hired Andy Kotelnicki from Kansas as his offensive coordinator for next season. The offense is being led by Ja’Jaun Seider and Ty Howle during the bowl game.

Franklin, who is finishing his 10th season in Happy Valley, has now hired six full-time offensive coordinators during that time.

Penn State starting quarterback Drew Allar came to Happy Valley as a 5-star prospect. This season he’s thrown for 2,336 yards and 27 touchdowns. Most impressively, Allar tossed just one interception in 2023.

Leading the Penn State offensive front is one of the best linemen in the country, Olumuyiwa Fashanu. The 6-foot-6, 317-pound native of Maryland was named the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.

A projected top-5 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, Fashanu has declared for the draft and said he would be traveling with PSU to Atlanta, but it is not clear if he will actually suit up in the game or watch from the sidelines.

The Big 10 and SEC will also meet in the Cotton Bowl (Ohio State/Missouri), Music City Bowl (Maryland/Auburn), ReliaQuest Bowl (Wisconsin/LSU), Citrus Bowl (Iowa/Tennessee) and Rose Bowl (Michigan/Alabama).

Ole Miss is already 1-0 on the week as they defeated Penn State in a golf putting competition on Christmas Day.