By Vinny Hardy
The Kentucky Wildcats just put the finishing touches on their best season since 1977 by defeating the Penn State Nittainy Lions 27-24 in the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Ironically, Kentucky also defeated Penn State in 1977 when they won 24-20 in Happy Valley.
Kentucky has their superstar players and leaders in Benny Snell, Josh Allen and C.J. Conrad who all set the tone for the final game of the season when they opted to suit up and play in the bowl game. But this win, like most of Kentucky’s wins, came courtesy of contributions in all three phases of the game.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) January 2, 2019
Lynn Bowden produced another clutch punt return TD to give Kentucky an early 10-0 lead. Josh Allen introduced himself to Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley a couple of times in the first half. The defense strung together several three and outs in the first half which was reminiscent of what they did in the second half at Missouri. Kentucky snuffed out Penn State’s fake punt attempt right out of the gate. Had they been able to convert, the game may have had a completely different complexion and flow.
Benny Snell came on strong in the second half after only toting the rock nine times in the first 30 minutes. The Nittany Lions made their run and reeled off 17 unanswered points to reduce the UK lead from 27-7 down to 27-24. Then Snell and the offensive line took matters into their own hands and kept the ball from the 4:10 mark until the 00:01 second mark, leaving Penn State with one desperation hook and lateral play that failed. This was reminiscent of the drive they put together against Vanderbilt to secure the game winning touchdown and keep the ball away from the Commodores down the stretch.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) January 1, 2019
Everyone is well aware of the record-setting seasons that Benny Snell and Josh Allen put together. It might not have been as publicized, but Lynn Bowden etched name in the record books too.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention @H_Huncho setting a school record yesterday. He caught five passes to give him 67 on the season, the most by a sophomore in school history. Derek Abney (2001) owned previous record of 66. #GetUp pic.twitter.com/8pprufeiup
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) January 2, 2019
If you’re passing Derek Abney on any kind of UK football list you’re definitely accomplishing something. Bowden achieved this in an offense that hung its hat on running the ball and with a quarterback, Terry Wilson, who was playing his first year of Division 1 college football.
Kentucky has been fighting for respect for years. From 1984-2017 they had put together some solid 7-5 seasons and had gone to and won some bowl games. All of those moments and seasons were enjoyable, but they were never quite able to get over the 8-win regular season hump. That’s what makes this season so joyous. Fans and media members a generation older than myself wondered if they would ever witness a season like this again. People like myself (I was 16 days old when they won their 10th game in 1977) and younger wondered if we would ever witness a season like this one.
Another thing that adds to the legitimacy of what Kentucky accomplished is the teams they beat en route to 10 wins. Florida won 10 games and throttled Michigan in the Peach Bowl. As excruciating as the loss to Florida was last year, had Kentucky won, and they should have, all of the detractors would have quickly pointed to how the Gators fell apart in the second half of the season. That’s not the case this year, Kentucky went to The Swamp and beat a legit squad fair and square. Missouri won eight games, South Carolina won seven, Mississippi State won eight, MTSU won eight and played for their conference championship.
Speaking of South Carolina, the Gamecocks’ season ended on more of a sour note.
Virginia defeats South Carolina 28-0 in Belk Bowl. Gamecocks open 2019 season Aug. 31 against UNC … in Charlotte. https://t.co/bXgP4OFkPe
— GoGamecocks (@gogamecocks) December 29, 2018
That’s not the type of momentum you want to have heading into the spring. Barring a shutout in Monday’s championship game between Alabama and Clemson, South Carolina joined San Diego State as the only teams who have been held without a point during bowl season.
To add insult to injury, prior to being shut out 28-0 South Carolina tacked on another year to Will Muschamp’s contract.
South Carolina's Will Muschamp gets a one year contract extension. Now signed through 2024.
— Kevin Faigle (@kevinfaiglewrdw) December 18, 2018
It’s doubtful that they would say so but the Kentucky coaching staff is probably cool with this news. Kentucky has won five straight in the series and have been beating the Gamecocks while in the process of becoming a good program. The Cats have won the last five games by a combined score of 135-93. That said, South Carolina will still probably be picked ahead of Kentucky in the SEC East yet again.
That’s another story for another (SEC Media) Day.
For now just bask in the glow of a 10-win season, a New Year’s Day bowl win and some of the greatest players Kentucky football has ever seen. Truly historic indeed.