Rapid Reaction: Benny Snell, Kentucky defense team up to take down No. 14 Mississippi State
Benny Snell delivered on his promise.
He said Kentucky could run on any team. Saturday night, he did just that. He ran all over Mississippi State’s vaunted defense — 165 yards and 4 scores — but the co-star of the huge upset was (gulp) Kentucky’s’ defense.
This was the kind of night that Mark Stoops had to have in mind when he came to Lexington, as the only thing more memorable than the driving rain was the job his defense did in shutting down MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs. Both Kentucky and State entered the game among the SEC’s shrinking legion of undefeated squads, but it was the Wildcats, a 10-point underdog, who claimed the right to remain undefeated by virtue of a physical, emphatic 28-7 victory.
Snell punctuated the Wildcats’ 4-0 start by rushing 23 yards for his fourth touchdown — his third in the second half to account for the final score.
No. 14 Mississippi State struck first (possibly including a pregame shoving match between the teams), converting a Kentucky missed field goal into a 15-play, 80 yard scoring drive that chewed up over eight minutes of first-half clock and ended in a one yard scoring plunge from Nick Fitzgerald. Kentucky responded with a short drive after a shanked punt. A two yard Benny Snell plunge and the ensuing extra point tied the game going into halftime.
Kentucky’s defense , which allowed only 210 yards and 7 points in the game’s first three quarters, delivered a stop to open the second half, and Kentucky cashed in its own grinding drive, going 92 yards in 11 plays to claim a 14-7 advantage. From there, the defenses dug in. Early in the fourth quarter, UK freshman Tyrel Aijan intercepted a Nick Fitzgerald pass and returned it to the MSU 35. On the next play, Benny Snell cracked his third touchdown run of the game, setting a new UK career touchdown mark.
Aside from the defense, Kentucky was led by Snell, who had 125 yards on 20 carries. While Snell claimed a spot in the Kentucky record book, the defense claimed a major dose of redemption. A season before, State had racked up 45 points and 441 yards in Starkville against Kentucky. That was not the case Saturday night, as State’s scoring drive was the only real sign of weakness from the Kentucky defense. Kentucky sacked Nick Fitzgerald twice and hurried him on three other occasions. The quarterback run game which was a staple of State’s offense was noticeably absent, as Fitzgerald was held to 24 yards on 14 carries.
Kentucky figures to likely be ranked in the Top 25 next week and will host South Carolina next Saturday, in a game in which UK hopes to gain control of battle (behind Georgia) for the SEC East. Or who knows, maybe not behind Georgia. After a defensive performance like this, anything is possible.
State will host former head coach Dan Mullen and his Florida Gators, who are suddenly looking stout after their thrashing of Tennessee.