Kentucky football: My 5 favorite moments of the 2018 season
Indeed, 1977 was a long time ago. Tim Couch was born that year. Jimmy Carter was inaugurated President. Elvis, at least for part of the year, was still alive. Tom Landry was roaming the Dallas Cowboys’ sideline, and Terry Bradshaw was throwing passes in Pittsburgh. “Laverne & Shirley” ruled television, and Star Wars debuted on the big screen. And the Kentucky Wildcats were really, really good at football, going 10-1.
That was 41 years ago, but it seemed that we might see Jimmy Carter return to power and Elvis return from the dead before Kentucky won 10 games again on the gridiron. Enter 2018, surely a season to remember for Kentucky football. Here are my 5 favorite moments, all worth remembering:
1. Winning in The Swamp
Despite the fact Florida wasn’t even very good in some of the recent seasons, Kentucky’s 31-year losing streak to the Gators consumed the attention of the Big Blue Nation. After a series of difficult defeats to Florida, Kentucky finally broke through in 2018. They beat a team that they hadn’t taken down since 1986 … and in fact, beat them in Gainesville, a place they hadn’t won since 1979. Kentucky trailed at the half, took the lead in the third quarter, and then found themselves fighting off history and holding on for dear life on one big — if confusing — final defensive stand. The Streak was dead, and Kentucky’s 10-win season really began gathering momentum that night.
2. Watching Josh Allen terrorize QBs
Kentucky has produced some standout defenders over the years. Usually, the Wildcats have to nab somebody who is a little undersized or playing out of their natural position … but in 2018, Kentucky had the biggest defensive monster in college football. Four short years ago, Josh Allen was a skinny 2-star prospect from New Jersey. In 2018, he was absolute death to opposing quarterbacks. Allen led UK in tackles, led the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss, and was absolutely unblockable. He leaves UK not only as Kentucky’s first consensus All-American in several years, but as the absolute unstoppable force of the 2018 season. Forget the records and the accolades, just seeing the best defender in college football in blue and white was unforgettable.
3. Benny Snell’s record-breaking campaign
Similarly, 3 years ago, Benny Snell was forgotten by Ohio State, overlooked by Penn State once Bill O’Brien left town, and found his way to Lexington, where he was expected to back up starting running back Boom Williams. Three 1,000-yard seasons and a million broken tackles later, Snell left UK as the school’s leading rusher, scorer, and possibly motivator. On a team that reveled in being underrated, Snell became the mouthpiece, the guy who effectively told the world, “You tried to forget me, but good luck trying to tackle me in the fourth quarter.” Snell rushed for 3,873 yards and 48 touchdowns in three seasons. He also helped UK win 24 games in those seasons.
4. Finishing strong in the Citrus Bowl
Despite a 9-3 regular season, Kentucky found itself nearly a touchdown underdog against Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. In many ways, it was a mirror for Kentucky’s season, with the Wildcats again finding themselves considered as the have-nots in a battle with a traditional NCAA powerhouse. Kentucky raced to a 27-7 advantage before holding on late for the 10th win of the season. Snell became the school’s all-time leading rusher, Allen had 3 more sacks and a blocked field goal, and Kentucky cemented its status as the school’s best team in recent memory with an impressive victory.
5. Beating the clock in Columbia
Other than not winning all that many games, Kentucky football’s historical calling card has tended to be painful last-second losses. Hail Mary against LSU? Check. Seven overtime loss to Arkansas? Yep. Leaving receivers uncovered against Florida? Been there. So when Kentucky pulled off a 15-14 untimed down win at Missouri, it was more than another last-second win. For the team that had historically had no luck except bad luck, it seemed like Kentucky had turned over a new leaf. QB Terry Wilson’s 2-yard dart to C.J. Conrad exorcised a few of the demons still left after the Florida game, and provided Kentucky fans with another memorable moment from 2018.