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Football Position Reviews and Previews: Running Back


2016 Production and Accolades

The offense reached new heights in 2017 thanks to Eddie Gran’s emphasis on the run.  It took a few games to find their identity, but once they discovered the right recipe in the second half of the New Mexico State game, the record books were rewritten.

The Cats finished the season with 3,044 rushing yards, the second-most in school history, less than a hundred shy of the record set by the 1974 team.  They set a record for yards per carry at 5.4, .6 yards better than the ’74 team.  Their 30 rushing touchdowns tied the school record set by Bear Bryant’s squad in 1949.

Boom Williams’ 1,170 rushing yards are the fifth-most ever recorded by a UK running back in a single-season and the most since Artose Pinner was SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2002.  Benny Snell was just behind Boom with 1,091 yards, the sixth-most in a single-season.  The freshman rewrote the record book for freshmen running backs, shattering records held by Moe Williams and Randall Cobb.  It was the fist time two UK rushers went over 1,000 yards in a season, the only power five school to accomplish that feat in 2016.


  • Boom Williams was named Third Team All-SEC by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele.
  • Benny Snell was named to the SEC and Athlon’s All-Freshman team.  Pro Football Focus, ESPN, 247 and the Football Writers of Association of America named him a Freshman All-American.  Snell also received two SEC Freshman of the Week awards.

Grade: A

Mark Stoops always wanted a powerful rushing attack and that’s exactly what he got this year.  Benny, Boom and Jojo with the dance gave opposing defensive coordinators headaches all year. They didn’t earn an A+ because of their slow start and their inability to consistently catch passes out of the backfield, accounting for just 100 yards and a touchdown on 12 receptions.


  • Jojo Kemp: The leader of the running back room was the most vocal leader on the offense.  Kemp finished his Kentucky career with 1,709 yards (11th in school history) and 19 rush touchdowns (9th) in 45 games.  His performance against South Carolina in 2014 is unforgettable, “Why not Kentucky? Why not us?”
  • Boom Williams: Leaving early for the NFL Draft, Boom’s final season in a Kentucky uniform was his best, rushing for 1,170 yards.  He finishes his career seventh on UK’s all-time rushing list with 2,476 yards and 20 total touchdowns.
  • Mikel Horton: Horton opted to transfer midway through the season following the emergence of Benny Snell as Kentucky’s featured power back.


  • A.J. Rose: Rose was arguably Kentucky’s most important scout team player.  A high school quarterback, Rose mimicked dual-threat foes Lamar Jackson, Justin Thomas and more.  Entering the season, many projected him to play before Snell.  Needing to fill the void left by Boom Williams, Rose or Sihiem King will need to step in immediately.
  • Bryant Koback: His senior season shortened by injury, the early enrollee still managed to get over 1,100 yards rushing in just five quarters of action.  Like Snell, Koback is a powerful runner, one that could’ve easily received offers from Ohio State and the like if he did not get injured.

2017 Outlook

This unit rushed for the second-most yards in school history; that’s going to be awfully difficult to top, especially without the playmaking ability of Boom Williams.  Without Boom, it’s a good news, bad news situation.

Good news: Snell will be the featured back, ensuring fans will no longer have to ask, “How come Benny isn’t getting the ball?”

Bad news: There’s no Boom Williams.  Needing at least three running backs to carry the heavy-load in the SEC, Gran must find a consistent wingman for Snell between Rose, King, and Koback.

One final caveat that must be considered.  Gran struggled to find the right balance of designed runs for Stephen Johnson until the final two games of the season.  With eight months to improve his skills and add weight, Johnson will be a valuable asset in next year’s run game.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

3 Comments for Football Position Reviews and Previews: Running Back

  1. BlueGrass
    3:22 pm January 10, 2017 Permalink

    “One final caveat that must be considered. Gran struggled to find the right balance of designed runs for Stephen Johnson until the final two games of the season.”

    more like, Gran couldn’t trust Johnson not to fumble the ball so they didn’t let him run. Which as he showed time and time again, including in the bowl game as the correct answer. Hope he can figure that out over the off-season because we need MUCH better ball security next season.

  2. Mc12
    4:00 pm January 10, 2017 Permalink

    Bryant Koback: His senior season shortened by injury, the early enrollee still managed to get over 1,100 yards rushing in just five quarters of action….

    1,100 in just over 1 game is almost close to the record set across all levels of football by Bobby Boucher in 1998 for the SCLSU Mud Dogs. Bobby ran for 3500 yards on 40 carries while also recording 16 sacks in the same game.

    • Nick Roush
      4:16 pm January 10, 2017 Permalink

      I thought the same thing when Rowland first Tweeted it, but the five quarters are over 4 games. He played a full half of one game, then just the first quarter of the other three. He was pulled early because he already had ran up the score.