By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
ORLANDO — Benny Snell is inching closer to his final game at Kentucky but is focused on the present and not the future.
“I really kind of don’t like thinking about it,” he said. “I am living for the moment, you know what I’m saying? But, yeah, I’ve been enjoying every moment I can with my teammates, with my coaches. I’m excited about the game as well. We’re in Orlando (and) I’m having fun. I love the weather, but, you know, my time’s come. I’ve enjoyed every moment I have. Like I always say, I’m living my dream still. I’m still living it, you know, so I’m enjoying it.”
Snell needs just 107 yards to become the school all-time rushing leader and will look to break Sonny Collins’ record when the Wildcats (9-3) take on Penn State (9-3) in the VRBO Citrus Bowl Tuesday. Kentucky hasn’t played on New Year’s Day since the Nittany Lions dealt the Wildcats a 26-14 setback in the Outback Bowl nearly 20 years ago in Tampa.
Although Snell has big plans, overcoming the Nittany Lions won’t be an easy task. Penn State is among the top teams in sacks nationally and has a knack for creating negative plays.
“They’re the real deal,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “You know, they’re No. 2 in the country in sacks. They’re No. 4 in the country in tackles for loss. And their front makes them go. Those front forward guys are really good and they’ve got some backups that come in and are really productive.”
As for Snell, he’s confident Kentucky’s offensive line will be ready for the task at hand against Penn State, which he says likes to blitz and are “good at controlling the run (and) stopping the run.”
“(We’ve) just got to make sure (in) protection I get a chip on those guys,” Snell said. “I know the whole defense swarms so they’re going to come after it.”
FUN IN THE SUN
The Wildcats have been in Orlando for more than a week and have gotten used to the warmer climate. They also enjoyed a spending spree at Best Buy late last week.
“It’s been a little hot out there,” Kentucky senior Josh Allen said. “I just like all the activities the bowl sets up for us. The Best Buy trip was a pretty good experience. Got to get whatever we want. So that was affordable. But, every day, you know, we’re having fun. We’re enjoying ourselves and, you know, it’s going to set us up for a great game this week.”
Like Allen, Kentucky defensive coordinator Matt House has enjoyed being in the Sunshine State for the past week.
“There’s been great hospitality here,” he said. “You know, the guys have had — there’s plenty to do for both our team and I know, selfishly, as a coach, for our families. The bowl has done a great job with that. And all joking aside, it’s been fun to get outside and fly around and practice, you know, in a little bit of nice weather.”
Snell considers Gran a father figure and has enjoyed being part of his offense for the past three seasons. Gran is the third offensive coordinator in Mark Stoops’ tenure as coach of the Wildcats.
“He’s kind of like a second father — me learning little things, little tips, as well as him, disciplining me on the field to make me the player I am today,” Snell said. “I love everything he does for me. There have been times that he — we go over for dinner, to the times that he yells at me on the field. I enjoy every moment because he’s had greats in the past and I want to be a great player, so everything he says, even if it comes off the wrong way, you know, I’ve got to take it as a sponge and I learn from him.”
Gran said the pair have “come a long way” since his arrival in Lexington.
“I’m a little bit old school in the way I coach,” Gran said. “You have to coach everybody a little bit different. And I’ve had to learn that with Benny, in certain ways, it’s really, really helped our relationship and (taught me) how to motivate him and how to get him ready.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.