NASHVILLE – As Benny Snell pounded the football into the end zone once, twice, three times, he set a new UK record for rushing touchdowns in a career, nudging aside two of the greatest runners Kentucky has ever known.
Sonny Collins and Moe Williams both were fleet and strong, with unique first names that could stand alone. Music has Madonna, and Cher. UK football – Sonny and Moe and now, Benny. Just say “Benny” and most any Wildcat football fan can tell you what that means:
A powerful runner, slamming through a crease in the offensive line or scampering around end, either one resulting in chunks of yardage left behind on his way to the painted grass under the goal post.
He has taken his place among Kentucky’s best. He’s the only Wildcat ever to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons – and he’s not even finished with his sophomore season yet, which will end in a bowl game once again. Two years of football for the Westerville, Ohio, native and two post-season trips for the Wildcats. That’s not a coincidence.
He’ll be the first to tell you much credit should go to the large people who create the space he turns into glory. In fact, minutes after Kentucky’s 44-21 victory in Vanderbilt Stadium, Snell took a knee at midfield and posed for pictures, flanked by offensive linemen.
They were tired, bruised and happy.
“This is what I’ve been telling the guys, what we need,” Snell said. “To come in and beat a team and don’t let ‘em get (any) hope. No chance of coming back – none of that.”
The Wildcats now are proud owners of seven victories in their first 10 games and have two more chances to pick up number eight. This coming Saturday figures to bring the stiffest challenge of the season, in Sanford Stadium against a Georgia team embarrassed Saturday afternoon by Auburn.
The Bulldogs didn’t necessarily say goodbye to the national playoff by losing 40-17 to the Tigers, but they may have handed their fate to the selection committee members who might be able to overlook a single loss; falling to Kentucky would be unforgivable.
More than likely, the Cats will take aim at number eight in two weeks, when the Louisville Cardinals come to town. It’s a victory total Kentucky hasn’t known since Jerry Claiborne worked the sidelines at Commonwealth Stadium, stubbornly defending with the Wide Tackle Six and eschewing the forward pass for tailbacks between the tackles – calling his beloved play, 46 or 47 Down.
He would have treasured Benny Snell. Maybe too much.
Claiborne might have worked the durable back 30 to 35 times a game and if he had, he would have missed the likes of Sihiem King, who dashed and darted for 69 yards on 15 carries, scoring two touchdowns – the first multi-TD performance in his UK career.
And he never would have seen cool, efficient quarterback Stephen Johnson execute the run-pass option well enough to keep the Commodores off-balance much of the day.
What Claiborne and any head coach peering out from under a headset would have loved was the way the Wildcat defense abused a Vandy offense that had stayed competitive by taking care of itself. Kyle Shurmur had thrown three interceptions all season. The Wildcats picked him off four times, sacked him five times and registered six tackles for loss.
The Kentucky D kept handing the ball to the O, Mr. Snell essentially saying, “I’ll take it from here.” And he did – carrying 17 times for 116 yards. That’s why he sported such a wide smile as he posed for pictures after the game.
Then he jogged to the far end of the visitor’s grandstand, which was still awash in Kentucky blue, to thank the thousands of fans who had turned the stadium into their personal playground.
Finally peeling himself away, he started covering yardage again, this time galloping toward the locker room. Then he stopped; he saw UK fans in need. A father and son beckoned, begging for a selfie – with them, and their sign that read, “It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Benny Snell.” The super guy who couldn’t stop smiling obliged.
Soon he was off again, heading for the showers, but only after he slowed long enough to toss his wristband to a youngster.
The bitter loss to Mississippi was a fading memory. Kentucky was a winner again. Benny Snell was smiling, that new record-holder. Of course, the only record he cares about is 7-3. There’s a chance for more fun on the way.