Coaches knew Benny Snell needed just five more yards to break Kentucky’s all-time career rushing record.
In the third quarter of the VRBO Citrus Bowl near the end zone, they sent the offense out with two straight plays designed to get the junior running back the ball.
The Kentucky side of the Camping World Stadium crowd started chanting: “Benny, Benny, Benny” like it knew what was coming next.
So did Snell.
“I know that when we ran out there, I knew I was like 5 or 4 yards away, and I looked at Coach (Eddie) Gran and he gave me that look, like yeah,” Snell said of his offensive coordinator and position coach. “I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s get it.’”
Kentucky didn’t need the second play because Snell went 12 yards for the touchdown on his first carry and put the Cats up over Penn State 27-7.
With that one run, the 5-foot-11, 223-pound junior broke a record set 43 years ago by Sonny Collins and became the all-time leading rusher in UK history.
“It was the best feeling ever when I crossed the pylon,” Snell said, crediting his offensive line for getting him to 3,873 career yards and more than a dozen other Kentucky records.
Snell, who announced he was leaving a season early for the NFL Draft, had 144 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries in his final game in a UK uniform.
His 144 yards was second-most for any UK player in a bowl game. Rafael Little ran for 152 yards in the 2007 Music City Bowl.
When Snell crossed the goal line, he took a deep breath and fell to his knees.
“I was so excited,” Snell said. “I was in the moment. I don’t even have word for how I was feeling. I was speechless.”
It was such a genuine Benny Snell moment, senior tight end C.J. Conrad said.
“The kid plays with his heart,” Conrad said. “He’s an unbelievable player. Truly blessed to have him on the offense the last three years. He’s made my career so much fun.”
Conrad felt a bit like the offense’s babysitter shortly after Snell’s score, which included players pretending to take photos after the run.
“I had to be the bad guy and break it up so they didn’t get a penalty,” Conrad laughed. “So I apologized to him on the sideline.”
Coach Mark Stoops got the ball from the officials after the record was broken. Snell’s 3,873 rushing yards rank No. 12 in Southeastern Conference history.
It was fun to see him get it, quarterback Terry Wilson said after the victory.
“I was happy for him,” Wilson said. “Benny’s such a great person and he always does the right thing and he puts in the time and effort and that’s what shows out on the field.”
It was especially fun for the Kentucky offensive linemen, who have been blocking for Snell for the past three seasons.
Before the game, center Drake Jackson discussed how much seeing the running back break the record would mean to all of them.
“We don’t have any stats ourselves, so if we can have a 1,000-yard rusher, a guy who broke all these records, that’s looks good for us.”