A WILD CAT
Kentucky’s Snell a challenge for Georgia
ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia’s defense could be in for one Snell of an afternoon this Saturday when Kentucky visits Sanford Stadium.
Wildcats sophomore tailback Benny Snell rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 44-21 rout at Vanderbilt, and he has followed up last year’s 1,091-yard season with 1,013 yards with two regular-season contests and a bowl game remaining. Snell rushed 21 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns last November during a 27-24 home loss to the Bulldogs, with most of his carries coming out of the wildcat formation.
Georgia defenders are expecting more of the same this time around, especially after Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson rushed 32 times for 167 yards last weekend, with some of his success coming out of the wildcat as well.
“The wildcat is always challenging, because you never know where the ball is going,” Georgia senior nose tackle John Atkins said. “You also have to be a lot more patient. Last week Johnson was very patient, so Kentucky will probably do that a lot this week.
“Whenever a team has success on someone, other teams will try the same thing, too.”
Johnson (1,035 yards) and Snell are the Southeastern Conference’s top two rushers out of a bumper crop that includes LSU’s Derrius Guice, Georgia’s tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and Alabama’s duo of Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. Johnson has rushed for 312 yards on 61 carries the past two weeks against Texas A&M and Georgia, emerging as the league’s best hope of a Heisman Trophy ceremony invitation.
Yet Kentucky does not possess the same offensive balance as Auburn, leaving Snell — a 5-foot-11, 223-pounder from Westerville, Ohio — the unquestioned target for opposing defenses and his weekly accomplishments arguably more impressive.
“They have some similar plays, though they might present them differently,” Bulldogs second-year coach Kirby Smart said. “Looking at what Kerryon did in that package, Auburn does it a little different, but Kentucky does a really good job. Kentucky’s percentage of wildcat based on this year is actually not as high as it was last year versus us, and that is usually predicated on how much success they’re having.
“If it is working, you do it more. They had a couple of drives last year, particularly one at the end, where they ran almost the whole series in the wildcat. They are good at it.”
The simple premise of the wildcat, which is a direct snap to a running back or a receiver, is that it makes the defense account for all 11 offensive players. In the traditional play of a quarterback handing off to a running back, the defense no longer has to account for the quarterback, provided it’s not a flea-flicker or a pass back to the quarterback.
Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has used five such gimmick plays this season, with receiver Lynn Bowden attempting three passes and Snell two.
“The probability of them passing definitely goes down in the wildcat,” Bulldogs senior safety Aaron Davis said, “but the probability of a big play happening when they pass the ball is probably huge, because guys can get sucked up on the run. Anything can happen, so you have to play physical but also keep your eyes on your man in case they try to do some kind of trick play or pass off of it.
“As long as you stay disciplined, it actually makes the game more predictable. Then it comes down to executing and being able to do your job.”
Georgia was gashed for 237 rushing yards and 5.2 yards per carry in last week’s 40-17 loss at Auburn, and Kentucky is not expected to arrive with any sympathy cards. The Wildcats do not possess overwhelming numbers on the ground, but they do have a back who is the first in school history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and already has set a program record with 28 career rushing touchdowns.
Kentucky is 7-3 this year, and when Snell has rushed for 100 or more yards the past two seasons, the Wildcats are 9-2.
“Our kids talked last year about that being the most physical game they played in from a defensive standpoint, because it was so much grinding and hitting,” Smart said. “Kentucky prides itself on that, so it will be a great challenge for us. We did not stop the run real well last week, and we are getting an opportunity this week to play a team that is hell-bent on running the ball.”
Sophomore Benny Snell, shown here celebrating one of his three touchdowns last Saturday at Vanderbilt, is the first running back in Kentucky history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.