A WILD CAT

Ken­tucky’s Snell a chal­lenge for Georgia

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - SPORTS - BY DAVID PASCHALL STAFF WRITER

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.”

Or Snell-bent.

MICHAEL REAVES/KEN­TUCKY PHOTO

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.

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