Kentucky’s Snell A Focus For Penn State

December 29, 2018 GMT

ORLANDO, Fla. — Benny Snell’s personality may have gotten him on the map.

It’s his play, though, that his next opponent knows can get it beat on New Year’s Day.

Kentucky’s dynamic All-American running back will be a focal point for Penn State’s defense Tuesday when the Nittany Lions and Wildcats clash in the 2019 Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium, with the junior looking to leave Lexington by leading his team to its first 10-win season in 41 years.

“He has great big-play potential,” Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos raved. “We’ll try to keep him within the box and not let him out.”


That might be easier said than done for a defense that allowed five rushers to top 100 yards against it this season and five teams to blow past 200 yards rushing.

A gregarious figure on Kentucky’s campus who calls photos he takes with fans “Snellfies” and often answers questions in the affirmative by saying “Snell yes,” Snell already announced Tuesday’s game will be has last for the Wildcats. He’ll take his impressive résumé into the NFL Draft in April, and he’ll hope to shine in the league the same way his great uncle Matt Snell, a New York Jets standout back who helped them win Super Bowl III, did.

Snell rushed for 1,340 yards this season and averaged 5 yards per pop, but he has saved his best performances for Kentucky’s biggest games.

He went off for 175 yards on 27 carries in the Wildcats’ upset win over Florida, and he rushed for 165 yards and four scores against Mississippi State, a program led by former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. He also closed the season with back-to-back 100-yard, two-touchdown outings.

Snell has 1,000 yards seasons in each of his three years at Kentucky, and he’ll leave with program records for total touchdowns, points in a season and touchdowns in a season. If he gains 107 yards against the Nittany Lions, he’ll become Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher, too.

For Penn State, stopping the Kentucky running game doesn’t just revolve around stopping Snell.

“They’re unique in the way they run the football; jet motion, unbalanced, wildcat, RPOs, reads — they do it all,” Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. “They are majoring in ways to run the football. Not to mention, they have an All-American tailback and an awfully good offensive line. We have our hands full.”

It’s a challenge Penn State insists it can’t wait to approach.

Middle linebacker Jan Johnson said Kentucky’s offense seems very similar to the one the Nittany Lions defense sees in practice every day.


Penn State, after all, has a higher-rated rushing offense with a quarterback who can take off and still chuck the ball down the field. It’s what he notices from the Wildcats as well, he said.

“It’s just making sure that we align the correct way,” Johnson said. “You know, we faced some things like that throughout the year. Some wildcat, some unbalanced sets; it’s just making sure that will be recognized them and just get aligned to them.”

Then, making sure that Benny Snell doesn’t beat them, anyway.

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