SEC’s best running backs to meet Saturday at Kyle Field
Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams will be the other junior running back on Kyle Field on Saturday night as the Aggies play the surprising 13th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats and Heisman Trophy candidate Benny Snell Jr.
Kentucky (5-0, 3-0) is vying for the program’s first 6-0 start since 1950 in large part because of Snell, who leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing with 639 yards. Williams is second with 582 yards and has a better average per carry -- 6.1 yards to 5.6 -- despite playing top-ranked Alabama and second-ranked Clemson.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie and say I don’t think about [the individual competition],” Williams said of playing Snell. “He speaks a lot. He’s a vocal kind of guy. He likes to say that he’s the best running back in the SEC. I’m not too vocal like that. I like to let my game play and just see how that goes.”
Snell has been making news on and off the field.
The 5-foot-11, 223-pounder rushed for 340 yards and four touchdowns in victories over 25th-ranked Florida and 14th-ranked Mississippi State. After rushing for 175 yards in the 27-16 victory over Florida that snapped Kentucky’s 31-game losing streak in the series, Snell celebrated by tweeting an image of himself in a body of water with his arms around an alligator. Then after a four-touchdown effort in a 28-7 rout of Mississippi State, he tweeted a picture of himself in full uniform cradling a bulldog like a football.
Snell, who admits he’ll talk smack before games, posted “WATCH HOW YOU SPEAK ON OUR NAME” under the gator picture and “I SPEAK FACTS” under the bulldog.
Snell, whose Twitter handle is Mr SNELL YA LATER, said after last week’s 24-10 victory over South Carolina that he just wants to play football but also won’t run from trash talk.
“If smack talk comes here and there, OK, I can back it up,” he said. “But I like playing football. I’m not worried who says what or any of that.”
More and more people are talking about Snell, who is tied for fifth in ESPN’s Heisman watch with Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, Penn State quarterback Ed Oliver and Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley. Quarterbacks lead the way with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa first followed by Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins.
Saturday’s game is huge for Snell’s Heisman chances. A&M (3-2, 1-1), which is favored by five points, allows only 85 yards rushing per game to rank sixth in the country.
Kentucky recently launched a Heisman campaign for Snell with a 45-second video loaded on YouTube by Kentucky Wildcats TV along with more information available at SnellYeah.com.
“I don’t play for recognition,” Snell says at the end of the video. “I don’t play for awards. I play for Kentucky.”
Snell already ranks as the third leading rusher in school history with 3,063 yards. He has 40 career rushing touchdowns.
“I’ve never seen a guy that can take what looks like a 1-yard run and all of a sudden it’s 8,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “The offensive line does a great job inside blocking, and he finds holes, wiggles and all of a sudden, boom -- he’s out of there for a big play. He’s just constantly competing. That’s how he finds yards.”
Snell reminds Fisher of former Florida and Dallas Cowboys great Emmitt Smith.
“You think you have [Snell] and it’s second-and-5,” Fisher said. “Emmitt made big plays, but Emmitt made yards on everything he did.”
Snell has had 43 runs of at least 5 yards with 20 of them going for 10 or more.
Fisher said Snell is powerful but patient, “finding space in places where there shouldn’t be.”
But Fisher also likes his guy a lot.
Williams has flourished in Fisher’s pro-style attack and is coming off his best performance of the season considering the opponent. The 200-pounder had 152 yards on a career-high 29 carries in A&M’s 24-17 victory over Arkansas last Saturday. Williams had 12 runs of at least 5 yards with six of them going for at least 10 against a defense that went into the game leading the SEC in fewest rushing yards allowed.
“Every back has their own little unique style or maybe one guy is fast or physical, but these two are very good football players,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “They’re both competitive as heck, and both of them can hurt you, so you better play great team defense against both of these guys.”
Snell is coming off a season-high 28 carries for 99 yards against South Carolina.
“I’m excited about the competition,” Williams said. “But I’m not going to make it an individual battle. It’s about vs. Kentucky vs. Texas A&M, so we’re going to go out there and compete.”
NOTES -- Williams and Snell have had mixed results when playing against another of the SEC’s top running backs. In Snell’s first two seasons, Kentucky went 3-5 in SEC games against teams with an opposing running back who topped 1,000 yards that season. Snell topped 100 yards in only four of those games. In Williams’ first two seasons, A&M went 3-6 in the same scenario with Williams topping 100 yards in three of those games. ... Williams earned honorable mention honors from the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award committee this week. ... Former A&M All-America cornerback Pat Thomas was named to the SEC’s 2018 AT&T Football Legends class Tuesday. Thomas will be honored at the SEC championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 1. Thomas played for A&M from 1972-75 and earned first-team All-Southwest Conference and All-America honors in 1974-75, helping lead the Aggies to the SWC title in 1975 playing for a unit that led the nation in total defense and rushing defense. The Plano graduate played in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams and was inducted into A&M’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1986.