It was 42 years in the making, and the University of Kentucky football team’s 10th win over a storied Penn State squad in last week’s Citrus Bowl was the cherry on top of what has been a season to remember.
Not only did the Wildcats reach double-digit wins for the first time since 1977, but UK also sent the seniors and junior star running back Benny Snell out with postseason hardware after losing their past three bowl games, including a heartbreaker to Northwestern in the Music City Bowl a year ago.
From Snell’s hard-nosed north-and-south runs and linebacker Josh Allen’s bone-crunching sacks to kick returner/wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr.’s shiftiness and explosiveness, the Cats have given supporters and fans a lot to cheer about this season.
Snell, whose 144 yards made him UK’s all-time rushing leader, and Allen, who amassed three sacks, a quarterback hurry and a blocked field goal, lived up to the hype, and while their individual stats were critical for a victory, the Cats did so as a team.
From the onset, Kentucky showed it came to play and deserved to be in a New Year’s Day bowl. The Cats took advantage of a slew of Nittany Lions miscues, especially on special teams, a part of the game often overlooked by coaches. UK Head Coach Mark Stoops said he specifically devoted two of the team’s 15 bowl-prep practices to special-teams drills.
On the field, it was evident that each player trusted their brothers and believed in the team, one another and themselves. As Kentuckians, we should be proud of the Wildcats football program, which has gotten progressively better since Stoops took the helm four seasons ago.
The sting of losing the past three bowl games, including a one-point stunner to Northwestern a year ago, wasn’t lost amid the post-bowl celebration, but it was certainly a lot easier to swallow.
While Snell and Allen are departing for the NFL, Kentucky’s cupboard isn’t bare. The ever-explosive Bowden and quarterback Terry Wilson return next season. Will the 2019-20 Cats eclipse the 10-win mark? Only time will tell. In the meantime, there’s always basketball.
— The State Journal, Frankfort