NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Maybe Benny Snell knew what kind of day was ahead as he high-stepped into the end zone for his first of 3 rushing touchdowns Saturday night in Kentucky’s 44-21 win at Vanderbilt.
For a running back best known for running through defenses, Snell picked the right day to dance.
He was coy when asked about his personal rushing goals prior to the game. Snell was two scores away from setting the all-time mark for Kentucky rushing touchdowns. Three rushing scores and 116 yards later, Snell smiled behind a crowd of microphones. Setting the touchdown record was one of those goals he had been reluctant to discuss. He didn’t change his approach for Saturday, but the record was on his mind.
“It’s one of my accomplishments that I write on my wall,” Snell said. “I’m happy, I’m very happy. I’m very thankful, especially for my O-line and my tight ends. They do a great job and they don’t get enough credit. It’s all to them.”
Thirteen rushing touchdowns as a freshman and 15 more as a sophomore vaulted Snell atop the list for most career rushing touchdowns. Former Wildcats Moe Williams and Sonny Collins shared the previous record of 26. Snell also became the first player in Kentucky history to rush for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons.
Sometimes it’s worth a reminder that Snell is just a sophomore. Record breaker is a title he better get used to.
“It’s incredible,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said after the game. Stoops, who awarded the game ball to assistant strength coach Jon Hill for Veterans Day, said he didn’t realize Snell had broken the record. “Maybe I’ll give Benny [a game ball] on Monday,” Stoops said with a laugh.
Snell, who didn’t record a carry in the first two games of his Kentucky career, has helped establish the Cats’ offensive identity of the last two years. Yes, he ran behind one of the best offensive lines in the conference a year ago, and Stephen Johnson has proved himself as a winning and reliable quarterback, but the Wildcats attack starts and ends with Snell.
Freshman receiver Lynn Bowden, another young and dynamic player on Kentucky’s offense, wanted to point out that he and Snell have similar hair — blonde-tipped dreadlocks. But then Bowden got serious.
“I tell Benny every week, ‘You too big. You’re just too big. Nobody should be able to stop you. Period. I put that in his head, and I think he really believes that.”
The Westerville, Ohio, native is a 5-foot-11, 223-pound bruiser. It’s easy to expect big games from Snell. He’s scored 3 touchdowns in each of his last three games and has racked up 180, 176 and 116 yards in those performances.
Snell was asked if the immediate and sustained success has surprised him.
“Yes and no. I’m surprised, because everything, it happened so fast just like last year,” Snell said. “I’m really not surprised as well at my play. This is just how I play. I just try to run hard and get the first down. That’s just how it is.”
It sounds simple when he says it. And it’s starting to look simple. Like on that first score when he spun off a Vanderbilt defender and saw no one in front of him.
From there it was just high steps into the end zone.