NASHVILLE — The Vanderbilt defense entered its matchup with Kentucky with plenty of momentum after a solid showing against Western Kentucky.
And then Benny Snell happened.
The sophomore running back carried the ball 17 times for 122 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Wildcats (7-3) to a 44-21 win over the Commodores (4-6).
Vanderbilt had no answer for the talented back. Snell became the first running back in UK history to post 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
With his second score — a two-yard run on a Wildcat keeper that occurred at the 12:57 mark of the third quarter — Snell became the school’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns.
“It means a lot,” Snell said after the game. “I’ve put in so much work. It just feels like it’s all coming together. I’m very happy. We have an outstanding O-Line and Tight End group. It’s all on them.”
Benny Snell is feeling GOOD. pic.twitter.com/THAGdXwU69— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) November 11, 2017
Before the game, Snell was aware of the attention UK was getting for letting another win slip from their grasps against Ole Miss.
It was the fuel to fire and he used that as energy. It gave him another pep in his step. Snell wanted to make a statement against Vanderbilt with a chip on his shoulder.
“It was a lot of the hate and the doubt we get throughout the season,” he said. “We came into this game, we were the underdogs. We were predicted to lose. Things like that get me mad and makes me run harder. My teammates and I, we put in extra time in the film room and the weight room and it all came together as a team, so I’m happy.”
To get back to their winning ways, the Wildcats went back to what they do best: pounding the ball up the middle. UK finished 232 net yards on 47 attempts.
“We went back to the basics, and that’s running the football,” UK freshman offensive lineman Drake Jackson said after the win. “We ran the ball a lot, because we know that’s our strength. It was successful for us. Obviously Benny (Snell) had a good game, but I think our offensive line, across the board, stepped up all four quarters.”
“We know if executed our run-game, then it will set up passes and give us a good chance to win,” Jackson added.
It certainly did.
Snell wasn’t the only running back for UK that had success carrying the ball. Sihiem King tallied 75 yards to go along with two scores.
With King, it takes pressure off Snell to be an every-down back.
“Our job, at the end of the day, is to open up the hole. And (Sihiem King) hits it,” Jackson said. “It helps us that we have two guys that can run the ball so well. It takes a load off of Benny (Snell). It helps our offense as a whole that Benny doesn’t have to take 100 percent of the carries. Sihiem has really improved throughout the season.”
It was a nice redemption night for UK head coach Mark Stoops.
Two seasons ago, the Wildcats was handed a 21-17 defeat at Vanderbilt stadium. Not to mention, UK dropped a three-point loss to Ole Miss in a game that it seemed like the Wildcats were bound to win.
This time around it was different. This week was different.
“Today we played good football,” Stoops said. “The kids took (the loss to Ole Miss) to heart. They focused all week. We made good plays on the football. We had a good week of practice and that helped us win tonight.”
The UK run defense held Vanderbilt’s offense to just 60 yards on 20 attempts, forcing the Commodores into a more pass-heavy approach.
That pass-heavy approach went sour for Derek Mason and his offensive unit. Kyle Shurmur threw for 308 yards, but he was intercepted four times — including three times in the first half.
“When you make stops in the run game on first and second down, it really helps the defense as a whole,” Stoops said. “It allowed us to make big plays.”
Benny Snell Jr. is a treasure. pic.twitter.com/q5ZKw4v8zL— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) November 12, 2017
This story originally appeared in the Glasgow Daily Times. Read the story here.