Penn State will check off some firsts, and hopefully make a bit of history, as they face the Ole Miss Rebels for the first time on Saturday. This will also be the Nittany Lions’ first Peach Bowl appearance. With a win, the Lions would become the first team to win all six New Year’s Six games. The Lions have won three of them under Franklin (Rose, Cotton, and Fiesta), while the other two (Orange and Sugar) came under previous management.
From a bird’s eye view, these two teams come with similar profiles into this game. The Rebels lost to the only two top 10 teams on their schedule, as did the Nittany Lions. They’re both exceptional at one side of the ball —offense for Ole Miss, defense for Penn State, while average to poor on the other.
When you look a little deeper, however, you start seeing where the edges might, uh, provide an edge to either team. Ole Miss comes into the game averaging 34.8 points per game, while Penn State, surprisingly, is averaging 37.2. The Rebels, meanwhile, are allowing 22.3 points per game to Penn State’s 11.4. The Lions hold a slight edge on third down efficiency rate as well, at 40.59 percent to Ole Miss’s 36.71.
On the advanced stats side, Penn State comes in with the No. 5 SP+ ranking to Ole Miss’s 14th. Both teams rank similarly in offensive rating (Ole Miss 21st to Penn State 26th), and once again, the glaring disparity comes on defense, where Penn State is fourth while Ole Miss is 21st. Special teams also favor the Nittany Lions. One area where the Rebels will have an edge is explosive plays, where the Lions have been lacking for most of the season, up until they fired Mike Yurcich as offensive coordinator.
If stats is not your cup of tea, another way to look at this game is to see how things went for both teams on the actual games. Penn State struggled on the road early, finding themselves in tight contests against Illinois and Northwestern, but would separate in the second half. The Rebels also struggled early with Tulane, won by the skin of their teeth against LSU, and had too-close-for-comfort games against Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Auburn. Both teams had their ups and downs, but both took care of business when they needed to.
Lastly, both teams have been fortunate in the opt-out front, with Chop Robinson and Johnny Dixon confirmed to be out for Penn State, and only Cedric Johnson for Ole Miss. Of all the New Year’s Six games, this will likely feature the most intact rosters on both teams.
If Penn State is able to move the ball the way they did in the last two games of the regular season, they should have no problem keeping the Ole Miss offense on the sideline. And, with a month to prepare, co-offensive coordinators Ty Howle and JaJuan Seider should have had time to install some more of the “creative” plays (read: Running to the edge instead of up the gut on every down) that worked against the Scarlet Knights and Spartans, respectively. Lastly, with Harrison Wallace III reportedly back and healthy, expect the passing game to have a little semblance of life.
Penn State is 21-0 over the past two seasons against teams not named Ohio State and Michigan. They make it 22-0 on Saturday. Penn State 31, Ole Miss 20