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Missouri Faces Game-Breaking Back in Snell

The Kentucky offense relies heavily on one of the best running backs in the country — junior Benny Snell Jr.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Confidence, swagger and the talent to back it up.

Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. walked into this year’s SEC Media Days with a purpose — to put himself and his team on watch.

“I’m the best running back in the SEC,” a straight-faced Snell said in July.

He’s proven it thus far, as he ranks not only in the top of the SEC in rushing yards and touchdowns, but in all of college football. Snell has rushed for 868 yards in seven games (124 ypg, 6th in FBS), and added nine scores (T8 in FBS) on top of that.

Although those numbers look gaudy, they’re somewhat skewed to due Snell’s heavy usage. The junior running back averages 5.43 yards per carry, good for 56th in the country. Missouri’s Larry Rountree III has Snell beat in that category, ranking 20 spots higher.

The Tigers were poised to face the nation’s top back in Memphis’ Darrell Henderson last week, but he exited early with an injury. So it’s hard to tell how the 36th-ranked Missouri run defense will fare against one of the nation’s elite running backs, but all the numbers point to a stout performance.

Terry Beckner Jr. and the rest of the Tigers’ front seven have allowed just 3.68 yards per rush in the team’s first seven games, and other than Memphis’ Patrick Taylor (115 yds), no running back has accumulated more than 90 yards on the ground. They stand their ground at the goal line as well, allowing just six rushing touchdowns all year.

This bodes well for Missouri, as Kentucky’s offense relies almost entirely on Snell’s production. However, he torched the 20th-ranked Mississippi State run defense for 165 yards and four touchdowns. The bigger the game, the better Snell plays. In a week two victory over No. 9 Florida — Kentucky’s biggest win in years — he ran 27 times for 175 yards (6.5 ypc).

One has to think Snell and Co. will be playing with a chip on their shoulders, as the 12th-ranked Wildcats come into Columbia a 6.5 point underdog. Every game for Kentucky is a big one as they pursue an SEC East title, and this week’s contest with Missouri is no different.

Knowing how vulnerable the Tigers’ secondary is, limiting Snell will be a major key to Barry Odom securing his first career victory over a ranked opponent.