The Kentucky Wildcats and Penn State Nittany Lions kicked off the VRBO Citrus Bowl, a game of which would decide which team would reach a 10-win season. For the Nittany Lions, it would be their third consecutive season of such success. However, for the Wildcats, they’d win 10 games in a single season for the first time since 1977.
Kentucky jumped out to a 10-0 lead, courtesy of a field goal and punt return touchdown by Lynn Bowden. Before the half, Penn State would answer with a touchdown for a 10-7 game at halftime.
The third quarter belonged to Benny Snell Jr., as he eclipsed the program’s all-time rushing yards record and added two touchdowns. Miles Butler added his second field goal as well, finishing off a 17-point explosion from the Wildcats.
However, the Nittany Lions returned their own punch in the fourth quarter with back-to-back-to-back scoring drives. Two touchdowns and a field goal cut Kentucky’s 20-point lead to three and the Wildcats’ offense was handed the task of achieving enough first downs to run out the clock.
All hope seemed lost, as the Wildcats hadn’t had offensive momentum throughout the quarter.
However, behind Snell and the willpower of their offensive line, the Kentucky Wildcats claimed a 27-24 victory of the Penn State Nittany lions for their first 10-win season in more than four decades.
It was only a matter of time before Kentucky junior running back Benny Snell Jr. broke the school’s record for all-time rushing yards. Snell burst onto the scene three years ago as a true freshman backing up JoJo Kemp and Boom Williams. However, as his first year progressed, Snell became a fan favorite and more importantly a star in the Bluegrass.
As a sophomore, Snell became the team’s bell cow running back and one of the most underrated players in the country. However, his junior campaign was far more memorable than the former.
Snell broke the UK career rushing record on a 12-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of Kentucky’s blowout win. He finished the game with 26 carries for 144 yards and two scores.
The All-SEC RB rushed for 1,091 yards as a freshman, 1,333 as a sophomore and 1,305 as a junior. In what was most likely his last game as a Wildcat, his presence off and on the football field was desperately be missed.
Josh Allen Continues Campaign for Top-Draft Pick
Throughout Tuesday’s broadcast, there was much talk of Josh Allen’s case to be the top-overall draft pick in this spring’s NFL draft. As a senior, Allen broke the school’s sack record for both a single season and a career.
Allen is featured in the top-5 on many NFL draft boards, but has recently received top-3 hype with the finalized NFL draft order being decided on Sunday night. The bottom three teams (Arizona, San Francisco & New York Jets) all have a quarterback they’re committed to and also need help in their front-seven.
Ohio State’s Nick Bosa has sat atop the draft boards for most of the year, but an injury ended his campaign earlier last fall and Allen’s stellar play throughout the year could elevate him to the top slot.
Bowden a Full-Time Returner?
Lynn Bowden has returned five punts all season. Two of those returns went for momentum-changing touchdowns. The first came during Kentucky’s comeback win at Missouri and the second in Tuesday’s game against Penn State.
Bowden was substituted in for David Bouvier to return the PSU punt, as Kentucky had been stagnant on offense and their defense had earned the Wildcats potentially favorable field position.
The sophomore took the football 58 yards to the house for the score, extending Kentucky’s lead to 10-0.
Next season, as the team loses Bouvier to graduation, Bowden could (and should) very well take over all return duties.
Rebuild or transition?
This Kentucky defense will lose Adrian Middleton, Chris Westry, Darius West, Derrick Baity, Jordan Jones, Josh Allen, Lonnie Johnson and Mike Edwards. On offense, they’ll lose Bunchy Stallings, CJ Conrad, David Bouvier, Dorian Baker, George Asafo-Adjei, Miles Butler and Sihiem King.
They’ll also lose Benny Snell Jr. to the NFL draft.
That’s 19 names that will move on from the team, which would lead some to have worries about what next season will bring.
However, the Wildcats will return QB Terry Wilson, WR Lynn Bowden, RB AJ Rose, OT Landon Young, LB Kash Daniel, NG Quinton Bohanna, DE Calvin Taylor, C Drake Jackson, DE Josh Paschal, OLB Boogie Watson, DE TJ Carter, LB DeAndre Square, OT Naasir Watkins, S Jordan Griffin, DT Phil Hoskins, OG Mason Wolfe, DL Marquan McCall, LB Chris Oats, WR Tavin Richardson, TE Justin Rigg, P Max Duffy, K Chance Poore, OG Luke Fortner, OT EJ Price, S Davonte Robinson and others.
Losing standout seniors is always tough to swallow, but returning such quality, young talent that helped contribute this season is a testament to the consistent recruiting of head coach Mark Stoops.
Now, we can finally celebrate the 2018 Kentucky Football season, the best in many of our lifetimes.