Kentucky football solidifies ‘culture change’ with 27-24 win over Penn State


Kentucky players celebrate after winning the VRBO Citrus Bowl against Penn State on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, at Camping World Stadium, in Orlando, Florida. Kentucky defeated Penn State 27-24. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Bailey Vandiver

ORLANDO, Fla.— The culture has changed: Kentucky is a real football school. 

UK football solidified this status in a 27-24 win over Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl Tuesday.

“Believe me, we had a great belief in our locker room,” head coach Mark Stoops said after the game. “We didn’t have to do anything special, just be us.”

Stoops said it was important to the players and program “to collect the trophy and to win 10 games and win a game on New Year’s Day.”

In its last two bowl games, the Kentucky football team has faced a prevalent attitude that its opponents were too good for them. Last year, UK lost to Northwestern, 24-23. This year, the Cats at one point led 27-7, then withstood a near-comeback from the Nittany Lions to win its first bowl game since 2009. 

This culture change seems to have been the plan all along, according to coaches and players, and Stoops said “there’s no question” that this team is the one that changed it. 

C.J. Conrad, who played his final game as a Wildcat Tuesday, said it means a lot to him that this team will go down in history.

“A lot of us came here, and we had a plan when we stepped foot on campus,” he said. “And that was the plan, to change the culture of Kentucky football.” 

Conrad attributed the Cats’ reaching that goal to the players, their “brotherhood” and their willingness to stick the course.

Linebacker Kash Daniel said that winning this game helps with recruiting, but also “with getting just the brand of Kentucky football out there more.”

“Hopefully it’ll get some people to stop talking crap about us, but I doubt that’ll happen,” he said. “It’s alright, though.”

Running back Benny Snell shared the sentiment: He said at the postgame press conference that the Cats set the record straight today after coming into this and other games as underdogs. 

“For me, I just want BBN and the fans to know that this group, especially with myself, we give our all… Even when, you know, teams are smack talking and we’re the underdogs coming into the game, such as Mississippi State or Florida,” he said. “We set the record straight that this is Kentucky football, we’re not just about to lay down.” 

Nor does this seem to be a temporary change. Stoops said there is a difference between a climate change and a culture change, with a climate change as the easier thing to do.  

“Culture is deep, deep, deep rooted for a long, long period of time,” he said. “And, you know, it takes a lot to overcome and change that. And these guys did that.”

Stoops said the upperclassmen have set an example for the younger players to follow in years to come.

“We have very good, young kids and we’re excited to get to work with them,” Stoops said.

Redshirt sophomore A.J. Rose, for example, played backup to Snell all season at running back. He improved his rushing total by more than 400 yards from last season and recorded his first touchdown during the 2018 season.

And DeAndre Square, who had significant playing time in what is normally the ineligible Jordan Jones’ spot, finished with the third most tackles for UK (6), one of which was a sack. 

“DeAndre had a hell of a game, Chris [Oats] had a hell of a game, too,” Daniel said of his fellow linebackers. “And it just shows how hungry these young guys are.”

Daniel said he is really looking forward to what next season brings.