Kentucky’s Sunshine State Bowl History

Kentucky's Sunshine State Bowl History
Spread the love

Recapping The Cats Previous Trips To Florida

When Kentucky meets Iowa on Saturday in the VRBO Citrus Bowl it will be the 21st bowl in school history. Currently, they have an 11-9 record and are winners of three straight. Going through UK bowls past one usually thinks of the state of Tennessee. The Cats have played six times in the Volunteer State, including a record of five Music City Bowls. However, a deeper dive shows this is also UK’s sixth bowl trip to Florida. Let’s take a look back at Kentucky’s Sunshine State Bowl History.

First Major Bowl

The Kentucky football team finished the 1949 season with a 9-2 record. As a result, they were selected to play in the Orange Bowl against Santa Clara. It was the first major bowl for the Cats and coach Bear Bryant and the second bowl in three years as they played in the 1947 Great Lakes Bowl.

It took the Broncos four days to travel 3,300 miles by train in order to make it to Miami. Kentucky took a 7-0 lead into the half on a touchdown by Wilbur Jamison. However, the underdog Broncos outscored UK 21-6 in the second half to win 21-13. Afterward, Bryant blamed the loss on overworking his team as they had two-a-day practices every day except for Christmas Eve and Day. He added it wasn’t his best coaching decision.

The game was Santa Clara’s third and final bowl win. They later went to Division II, then dropped football after the 1992 season. For Kentucky, it began a remarkable three-year run in which they played in the Orange, Sugar, and Cotton bowls winning the last two.

It’s Been Such A Long Time

Following the 1950 Orange Bowl, it would be 49 years until the Big Blue Nation invaded Florida again. With an offense led by head coach Hal Mumme and a then-unknown offensive coordinator Mike Leach, they brought the “Air Raid” offense to college football. Led by record-setting quarterback Tim Couch UK finished up the year with a 7-4 record. They were selected to play Penn State in the 1999 Outback Bowl.

In front of the first sell-out in bowl history aided by 40,000 of the BBN, including yours truly, Kentucky jumped out to a 14-3 lead and led 14-13 at the half. However, the Nittany Lions rallied in the second stanza going up 26-14 following a 19 yard run by Charlie Fields.

UK had one final chance mounting a 17-play drive getting them down to the Penn State seven. However consecutive sacks by Courtney Brown pushed the Cats into a fourth and long and were unable to score. Couch set a bowl record with 336 yards passing to go along with the two scores. The Nittany Lion defense led by Brown and Lavar Arrington sacked Couch five times and intercepted him twice.

Continuing on with Kentucky’s Sunshine State Bowl history we look at the first in a recent streak of Florida games.

One To Forget

It would be 17 years before Kentucky played another Florida bowl game. Following the 2016 season, UK was selected to play in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl after a 7-5 season. It was the first bowl under Mark Stoops and first for the school since 2009.

Unfortunately, the bowl wasn’t the best experience for Kentucky. On the fourth play of the game, Stephen Johnson fumbled and P.J. Davis ran it back 38 yards giving the Yellow Jackets a 7-0 lead. After a Wildcat punt, Stoops and Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson got into it after two Wildcat players were injured on what the UK coach deemed “dirty blocking tactics.”

Later in the half Kentucky drove it down to the Tech five-yard line. However, Jojo Kemp was stopped on fourth down turning it over. Facing a fourth and one at their own 15 Tech went for it and got it. A few plays later they scored again and the Cats trailed 20-3 at the half.

The Cats rallied in the second half getting as close as 26-18 on a touchdown run by Johnson. Tech recovered the onside kick and scored again making the final 33-18. Unfortunately, that dropped the Cats to 0-3 in Florida bowl games. But fortunes were about to change for the BBN.

Not Since The 1950s

The 2018 season was one to remember as the Cats finished 9-3, their best regular-season mark since 1977. Their reward was a trip to Orlando for a Citrus Bowl battle against Penn State. Led by Benny Snell the Cats jumped out to a 27-7 lead after the third quarter. Of course, it’s true UK football history proves nothing’s ever easy as the Nittany Lions rallied to cut it to 27-24. However, UK held on and the Cats got their first 10 win season since 1977.

Named MVP Snell ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, he broke Sonny Collins‘ record for most rushing yards.

On the other side of the ball, Josh Allen showed why he was a first-round draft pick. He recorded three of UK’s six sacks and blocked a field goal. In the end, Kentucky got their first New Year’s Bowl win since the 1952 Cotton Bowl and got revenge for the Outback Bowl 20 years earlier.

As we finish Kentucky’s Sunshine State Bowl History we rewind the clock to one year ago.

Much Better Trip To Jacksonville

Like every team in college football, Kentucky waded their way through a COVID-19 pandemic season that eventually canceled many bowl games. Fortunately for the Cats, the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl was one that still took place. Even though UK finished 4-6 they were still selected for a game against North Carolina State.

In a game that followed a familiar script, Kentucky jumped out to a 13-0 halftime lead. But the Wolfpack rallied and the Cats led 13-7. That set up a wild fourth quarter as the two teams combined for 24 points. A Chris Rodriguez run put UK up 23-14 with 2:50 to go. However, NC State marched right down the field and made it 23-21 on a two-yard Jordan Houston run.

Kentucky got the onside kick, ran out the clock, and won their third straight bowl. A.J. Rose was named MVP after rushing for a career-high 148 yards and the defense picked off three passes. Overall the Cats ran for 284 yards.

Thanks for going down memory lane with us at Last Word On College Football as we relived Kentucky’s Sunshine State bowl history. We’ll be back later in the week to preview the Citrus Bowl between the Cats and Iowa as both teams look for a fourth straight bowl win. In addition, they’ll look to even their Florida slate at 3-3.