LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Not even the wind could stop Benny Snell. Neither could Vanderbilt.
The Kentucky junior running back rushed for 169 yards and scored a touchdown to lead No. 14 Kentucky to a 14-7 win over the struggling Commodores Saturday night.
Snell’s go-ahead touchdown with eight minutes remaining broke a 7-7 deadlock and gave the Wildcats their third straight victory over Vanderbilt. The contest was a stark contrast from last year’s game that saw Kentucky roll to an easy 44-21 victory in Nashville.
“(I’m) very proud of our football team,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “In fact, finding a way to win the game, to grind out a tough, hard-fought victory. (It was) a nasty night. Very windy. Tough conditions. (I) really appreciate the way we fought it out … love the way the defense played really all night.”
The win assured the Wildcats (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) a winning season and made Stoops’ squad bowl eligible with five games remaining. Kentucky accomplished the feat by sticking to its running game, anchored by Snell and a veteran offensive line.
“Those guys have been steady for us for years — to put it on Benny (Snell)'s back there when, once again, everybody knew he was running the ball,” Stoops said. “I thought our offense, the coaches did a really good job of getting formations and keep on finding ways to open up some holes. Our O-line's mentality, their toughness, and Benny making some really good runs, really felt like we had an opportunity even at the end there to get that last run to put it away, to ice it.”
The 7-yard score by Snell came after Kentucky’s Kash Daniel forced a fumble that was recovered by Quinton Bohanna on fourth-and-one at the Wildcats’ 16-yard line. Feeding off the impressive stand by Kentucky’s defense, the Wildcats reached the end zone on a 12-play drive that went for 80 yards and spanned more than five minutes.
Snell collected 32 carries and made the most of his opportunities.
"That's Benny Snell football," he said. "if it's 20 carries, 30 carries-plus, I'm going to make it happen. That's what I want, I want the ball in my hands."
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson agreed.
"We just gave Benny the ball and did what we needed to do to get the win," he said. "Everyone is doing what they need to do. We're 6-1, so we just have to keep winning and worrying about what we have to take care of. We need to continue to practice hard."
The Wildcats finished off the impressive defensive performance with 1:04 remaining when Mike Edwards scooped up Kyle Shurmur’s fumble caused by teammate Josh Allen. Allen finished with eight tackles, collected a pair of sacks and had two tackles for a loss of 13 yards.
Stoops wasn’t surprised by the play of Allen down the stretch.
“(When he’s in) predictable pass situations, that's when he's at his best,” Stoops said. “It doesn't surprise me.”
Paced by Snell, Kentucky produced most of its offense on the ground and finished with 280 rushing yards against the Commodores. Kentucky attempted just nine passes in an environment dominated by heavy winds and flying debris.
Wilson completed three of nine passes, one of which was a 5-yard touchdown strike to Lynn Bowden that tied the score at 7-7 with 6:28 remaining in the second quarter.
The Commodores fell to 3-5 overall and 0-4 in the SEC.
BYE WEEK BLUES
Wilson’s fumble on his first carry paved the way to Vanderbilt’s first touchdown with 6:54 remaining in the first half. The miscue by Wilson set up Shumur’s 29-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Bolar, giving the Commodores a 7-0 lead. The Wildcats fumbled on the next series when Bowden bobbled an exchange with Wilson but stopped the Commodores on four downs to get the ball back. Kentucky ran just nine plays and ran the ball for just 4:18 in the first quarter.
“We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot with turnovers,” Stoops said. “They had possession of the football. We’re moving it, controlling the clock. With the wind, it was a tough first half. We didn’t get a lot of opportunities (to score).”
Stoops said he was “concerned” going into the contest.
“It felt like a long two weeks,” he said. “Our team needed it in certain ways. But other ways, you know, I had to be very intentional about putting the team in a better position than a year ago. We didn’t play very good coming off the bye. We played better and win.”
Daniel left the game in the fourth quarter because of an apparent hand injury. Stoops said didn’t know the injury.
“He’s got a hand injury,” Stoops said. “We’ll take a look at it, do some x-rays (and) see what we’ve got to do.”
Daniel finished with 11 tackles to lead the Wildcats’ defensive performance. He had two tackles for a loss of four yards and forced a fumble.
In addition to Daniel, Allen was slow getting off the field after forcing the decisive fumble in the fourth quarter, but Stoops wasn’t concerned.
Gametracker: Kentucky at Missouri, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.