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