football Edit

Do the Vols have an answer for the Benny Snell problem?

Jeff Drummond/Cats Illustrated

Tennessee safety Todd Kelly Jr. didn’t mince his words when asked about Kentucky tailback Benny Snell.

“He’s a problem,” the senior said.

“He’s explosive. He’s strong. He’s an all-around football player. He’s a great runner with the ball in his hands. I think we’ve all seen that.”

For the Vols to upset the Wildcats on Saturday, they’ll need to solve the Benny Snell problem.

The senior tailback leads the SEC with 1,008 rushing yards. He has 11 touchdowns on the season, including a 43-yard passing score. The boastful ‘back, who declared himself “the best running back in the SEC during media days in July, has accounted for more than 35 percent of Kentucky’s total offense.

Snell is the engine, gas and wheels for the Wildcats. In the team’s seven wins, he’s scored 10 touchdowns and averaged 5.27 yards per rush. Without Snell, Kentucky’s offense is a car running with four flat tires. In UK’s two losses, Snell is averaging right at 4.0 yards a carry with just a single touchdown.

“They do a lot with him,” Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt said.

“Lots of Wildcat, he can handle whatever they do. He’s very physical, but he doesn’t take a lot of 1-on-1 hits. He runs through the soft shoulder, so it’s tough to get him squared up.”

The Vols saw Snell’s ability firsthand a year ago, when No. 26 spearheaded Kentucky’s win over Tennessee with 180 yards and three scores. But Tennessee could be catching Snell at the right time in 2018.

The senior is a bit banged up and all those hits — whether opponents have squared him up or not — seem to be taking a toll. Snell has more than 33 carries than the next tailback in the SEC and he might be running on fumes. Snell’s production has dipped dramatically over each month of the season. Eight of his touchdowns came in September, and he’s topped the century mark just once in the last five games. A week ago, Georgia sold out to stop Snell (20 carries for 73 carries), forcing inconsistent quarterback Terry Wilson to try and beat them. It didn’t work, and Tennessee will undoubtably try the same approach.

"They have a very experienced offensive line — some older guys that have played together for a while — so they have a lot of experience, a lot of confidence coming into this season, so we've got to make sure we do our best job stopping the run," senior defensive end Kyle Phillips said.

“That’s what it’s about.”

The Vols were gashed on the ground two weeks ago at South Carolina, but they vowed to “build a wall” moving forward, and they did just that last Saturday. Against Charlotte’s run-heavy offense, Tennessee limited the 49ers to just 92 yards on 37 carries. It was the program’s best rushing defense performance in 22 games.

Now Tennessee must show it can repeat the effort against a Power 5 team. Want to beat Kentucky? Stop Benny Snell.

“It’ll be good old-fashioned football,” middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland said.

“It’s going to be won in the trenches. That’s what you want in November, that physical style of play. The most physical team is going to win the football game for sure.”