Rapid Reaction: Disrespected again, Kentucky caps memorable season with Citrus Bowl victory
It figured that Kentucky would be an underdog.
Seemingly all season long, the Wildcats were picked against, bet against, and generally denigrated. Led by two-star longshot Josh Allen and overlooked running back Benny Snell, Kentucky fed off of the lack of respect… and delivered one more helping of humble pie with a 27-24 Citrus Bowl win over No. 12 Penn State that marked the Wildcats’ tenth win of the season, a mark Kentucky surpassed only in 1950 when they upset top-ranked Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl in an 11-1 campaign.
Kentucky struggled early, particularly on the offensive end of the field, but relied on their defense, a boost from special teams, and timely production in the third quarter from the offense. Included within that production was a series of punishing runs from Benny Snell, who scored two touchdowns, and on the second, broke Kentucky’s all-time career rushing yardage record. Snell, who had long ago set UK’s career rushing touchdown mark and total all-purpose touchdown mark, dropped to his knees in the end zone, seemingly overcome with breaking the record in what he had previously announced would be his final game as a Wildcat.
Meanwhile, Bronko Nagurski Trophy winning linebacker Josh Allen continued his season to remember, sacking Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley three times and also blocking a field goal attempt in his final game at UK.
Kentucky converted a short field goal on their opening offensive possession after Penn State failed to convert an ill-advised fake punt. The Wildcats stretched their lead to 10-0 when sophomore Lynn Bowden returned a PSU punt 58 yards for a touchdown. Penn State followed that possession with a five play, 75 yard drive which culminated in McSorley finding tight end Nick Bowers with a one yard scoring pass. UK led 10-7 at the half, as Allen blocked PSU’s field goal try in the last minute of the half. PSU missed another attempted field goal in a first-half comedy of special teams errors.
UK took control of the game in the third quarter, moving the opening kickoff down the field on a six-play, 65 yard scoring drive which ended when Snell found the endzone from two yards out. After another drive concluded in a 28 yard Miles Butler field goal, Snell found the end zone and the record book on a 12 yard run with 1:35 to play in the third quarter that stretched the Kentucky advantage to 27-7.
Penn State answered, finding the end zone on a 10 play, 75 yard drive early in the fourth quarter that cut the advantage to 27-14. After a Kentucky punt, McSorley led Penn State down the field for another touchdown, cutting the lead to 27-21. After another lengthy PSU drive, the Nittany Lions connected on a 32 yard field goal to narrow the margin even further, at 27-24.
Kentucky finished 10-3, and while much of the nucleus of this squad will be in the NFL next fall, the future is bright in Lexington, where Mark Stoops remains the SEC’s second longest-tenured head coach