BY LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s play was so bad in last week’s 44-17 loss to Louisville that there is little to say other than the Cats definitely now will play either in the Music City Bowl Dec. 29th in Nashville or the Liberty Bowl Dec. 30th in Memphis. How many fans go to the bowl game after the way UK ended the season against Georgia and Louisville remains to be seen.
But the one thing to remember from the game is that sophomore Benny Snell continued his late-season surge by running for a career-high 211 yards to finish the regular season as the SEC’s top rusher with 1,318 yards — the first UK player to do that since Artose Pinner in 2002. He had 32 more yards than Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson.
Snell became just the sixth UK player ever to rush for 200 or more yards in one game.
In UK’s last five games, Snell ran for 777 yards and 12 scores on 123 carries. He also led the SEC in rushing touchdown with 18, which is also a new UK single-season record. He now has 2,409 yards in two years to rank eighth on UK’s all-time rushing lists and has a career-best 31 rushing touchdowns.
“Benny is a guy that’s also very emotional and plays so tough. That does get lost sometimes when you take a beating like that,” Kentucky coach Mark Stopps said after the Louisville butt-whipping. I really appreciate Benny and the tough yards that he runs for.”
He should because this UK team is lacking in players that play with the heart Snell does no matter what the score is.
“Benny is an incredible back. I mean, he’s just phenomenal. The way he runs, he’s so passionate with all of it,” quarterback Stephen Johnson said.
Snell even made a believer of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.
“He’s a really a good running back. He’s physical, he’s got a great balance. It took a lot of guys to hit him and tackle him,” Petrino said.
Persuading Matt Elam to sign with Kentucky rather than going to Alabama was the biggest recruiting battle Mark Stoops won when he first came to Kentucky. However, Elam went from a four-star, can’t miss prospect to a third team nose guard his senior year at UK.
His best year was 2015 when he had a combined 23 tackles after making only 10 as a true freshman. But in 2016 his playing time dropped significantly and he had just 10 tackles and that total dropped to eight this year. That’s 51 tackles in four years for a player Alabama wanted.
Stoops would not discuss if he wishes he had done anything different with Elam during his four-year career.
“I don’t want to get into the ‘what ifs’ with that,” Stoops said. “You know, it is what it is. Anytime anybody didn’t reach their goals, as a coach you always wish you could do as much as you can for any individual.”
Former UK receiver Jeff Piecoro, now the analyst for the UK Radio Network, knows “classic underachiever” has been used to describe Elam. He also knows many thought Elam would be the next Reggie White — a former NFL star — when he came to UK.
“I can’t say what I want to say. It’s not fair to the kid. Matt had a rude awakening in the SEC. We expect so much from some of these players,” Piecoro said. “With Matt so much was put on his shoulders when he chose Kentucky over Alabama. There was almost no way to live up to the hype and then we got what we got. But what could of, should of will always be talked about more than here’s what we got.”