Put Lamar Jackson and Benny Snell at the starting line and shout, “Go!” They might be neck-and-neck for the first few yards, straining to get a nose in front. And then Jackson likely would pull away.
Put the same two in front of a wall and ask them to run through it. Snell likely wins the gold in that event. Two incredible athletes, excelling in different ways with different skill sets.
Jackson took the bragging rights away from Snell Saturday afternoon. He and his teammates rolled into Kroger Field and stole the Wildcats’s grocery money. Took it right away from them and dared them to do something about it.
Louisville wrapped touchdown drives around Kentucky’s first, fruitless series, the Cardinals bolting to a 14-0 lead. That’s when Mark Stoops and his offensive braintrust put the ball, and their fate, into the hands of their sophomore running back.
Snell delivered. In fact, he delivered the Wildcats to the end zone, rendering it a 14-7 game. That left Big Blue fans hopeful that some defensive adjustments would make Action Jackson look a lot less like last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, which he was.
They never happened. Jackson played like this year’s Heisman winner, which he will not be. Apparently, he’s not even in the running, to the amazement of Stoops, who’s coached a few football teams in his day.
“You have to recognize him, as last year, as the best player in college football,” Stoops said after the game. “I can't recall defending anybody as talented as he is.”
He’ll hear no argument from his players, who never consistently found a way to put pressure on the Cards’ QB. Heck, even a near-disaster turned into a rose in bloom for Jackson.
Early in the fourth quarter, Kentucky down 37-10, a Matt Panton punt had backed U of L to its own one-yard line. Jackson took the snap, retreated into the end zone and then fumbled. Both sides battled for the football. Safety, Kentucky? Touchdown, Kentucky? Neither.
Jackson somehow came up with the football and, incredibly, found some room to run, slipping through a crease in the UK defense and racing out to the 16-yard line. Six players later, the Cardinals were in the other end zone, capping a 99-yard drive with a touchdown of their own and an insurmountable lead.
Lost in the wreckage was a phenomenal performance by Snell, who’s making Kentucky fans think about some great players from the past because he keeps running by them. Snell blew past Moe Williams with his 18th touchdown of the season, a new school record. He’s scored 110 points this season, another school record – breaking the mark set last year by his teammate, kicker Austin MacGinnis.
His 211 rushing yards are the most ever against Louisville (remember Rafael Little? He once ran for 151 against the Cards). And his season total of 1,318 rushing yards is the most ever for a UK sophomore (Sonny Collins had the old mark, with 1,213).
Extraordinary. “That does get lost sometimes when you take a beating like that,” said Stoops.
And a beating it was. The Kentucky defense that showed such promise early in the season collapsed, for the second week in a row. Walking wounded were crowding the sideline. Now they have a month to rest and heal and think about their next opponent, someone they’ll face in a bowl game.
Whoever it is will have to find a way to stop Benny Snell, who on Kentucky’s last drive, the Cats hopelessly behind, carried seven more times for 65 yards, including a 33-yard burst for a first down. After that carry, he came up celebrating. “To tell you the truth, I never look at the scoreboard,” he said later to the UK radio network.
He just keeps grinding, leaving everything he has on the field. “That’s just Benny Snell,” the player said, referring to himself – who happens to be a once-in-a-decade talent who did everything he could against a Cardinal team hunting revenge.
But while Benny was being Benny, Lamar Jackson was saying, I’ll see your school records and raise you a performance that justified last year’s Heisman voting, one that should at least confuse the voters who aren’t even giving him any consideration.
True, his Cardinals are but 8-4, bowl bound but not nationally relevant this season. Shouldn’t matter. He deserves at least an invitation to the party in New York.
Maybe Benny Snell will be there next year.