The Mississippi State defenders were talking dirty. The whole game. Benny Snell said so.
“It was real dirty, too, real dirty talk,” he said. “But we’re here to play football.”
And oh, how they played. After struggling to match State’s lone, first-half touchdown, the Wildcats dominated in the second half and sent the nation’s 14th-ranked team back to Starkville Saturday night, the victim of a 28-7 shellacking by Kentucky.
The Bulldogs had held Snell to 18 yards the season previous; he bested that total in the first quarter, on his way to a solid 60-yard effort in the first half. And it was Snell who had scored UK’s lone TD.
MSU had had some first-half fun at Kentucky’s expense, sacking quarterback Terry Wilson a couple of times and breaking through for five tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Once again, nobody in blue panicked.
“When we see we’re beating ourselves,” Snell said, describing the locker room scene at halftime, “we’re able to adjust. ‘We gotta take a deep breath, guys. Look at what we’re doing.’ “
Whatever they were doing wrong in quarters one and two, they fixed them in time for quarters three and four, when Snell went on to rush for another 105 yards and three more scores.
State committed 16 penalties, half of which seemed to come from offensive linemen trying to stop outside linebacker Josh Allen, either by jumping ahead of the snap count, or holding him. Either way, it was one of the reasons the Bulldog offense seemed to spend much of the second half going backwards.
Snell kept grinding and pounding and, as his offensive linemen were helping him up, he could hear the labored breathing of the Mississippi State defenders.
“Those guys were tired,” he said. “I could hear them (panting), the D line, they were tired. The safeties weren’t coming up as hard. We just wore ‘em out.”
And yet, the obscene smack talk persisted. Snell was all too happy to hear it, knowing his team was on its way to Kentucky’s first 2-0 start in the Southeastern Conference since 1977. It was fitting, because Fran Curci and some of his players from the ’77 team, the one that finished 10-1, were in the house.
So was two-time All-American Sonny Collins, who was the honorary game captain. Snell just might break his UK career rushing record.
“I’m so blessed. I’m happy. I’m living my dream. It’s all happening so fast,” said Snell, who finally met Collins after a practice earlier in the week. “Sonny Collins was so great. I love watching his film.”
Film study, Snell said, along with tough practices, are what helped Kentucky reverse last year’s blowout loss to an upset win.
“Mississippi State has a great front,” Snell said, “but in practice we planned accordingly. We planned so perfectly. We practiced so hard. So when everything happened in the game, we were ready for everything.”
And State was not. That was the difference. The Bulldogs knew Snell was going to run the football, yet seemed powerless to stop him. They knew Allen would be attacking quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, yet it seemed there was little they could do to counter his attacks.
With Snell pounding his way to a UK record-tying four TDs, the Bulldogs had to abandon their run game and try to catch up through the air – something Fitzgerald is not yet adept at doing. And it showed.
So when the clock blinked zeros, Snell took his place before the TV cameras on the field, surrounded both by giddy fans and a blanket of smoke from the fireworks that exploded in the night sky, celebrating the upset victory. And during his post-game interview with the UK radio network, the man who said he could run on any defense still managed to remain humble.
“After the Florida week, people thought it was a fluke. We stayed humble within ourselves. Now it’s on to the next opponent,” he said.
“To be great, it’s about finishing in the second half, in the third and fourth quarters. For this team to be different, we have to win games. And that’s what we’re doing.”
The other guys can talk dirty all they want. Benny Snell will take the W.