With starting running back James Conner out with a shoulder injury, former Kentucky star Benny Snell was asked to carry the bulk of the workload in the Pittsburgh Steelers backfield when they traveled to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals on Sunday.
And like he did time and time again in Lexington over the last three seasons, the former Wildcat delivered, finishing with a career-high 98 rushing yards on 21 carries and one reception for five yards to bring his all-purpose yardage total to 103.
“[I prepared for this moment in] practice, to be honest,” Snell said after the game. “Practice, [my teammates and coaches] did a great job preparing me. With me being out [the past three games with a knee injury], I got an outside look at how the team was and how we work together as an offense. I felt like I learned a lot, I was ready.”
It wasn’t an easy afternoon by any means. In fact, he totaled just 10 yards on four carries to close out the first quarter and then had just 32 yards on ten carries midway through the third.
With the team in desperate need of a victory to keep their postseason dreams alive, though, “Benny Snell Football” came alive in the fourth quarter.
With 8:59 to go in the game, the Steelers recovered a fumble and returned it to the Pittsburgh 42. After a nine yard rush by Snell on first down, followed by another two yard rush on second gave the Steelers a first, Hodges was sacked for a loss of ten to put the team behind the sticks. Two pass plays later, and the Steelers were forced to punt.
After a strong defensive stand, Snell got his opportunity once again, and he made the most of it. On three consecutive rushes, the former Wildcat saw gains of 3, 6, and 21 to push the ball to the 13 yard line. Milking more time off the clock, Snell added five more yards on two rushes to set up a field goal, giving the Steelers a 16-10 lead with 3:21 to go.
On the ensuing defensive drive, former Wildcat Bud Dupree came up with a strip sack, giving the ball back to the Steelers just outside of the red zone.
Up 16-10 with just 2:38 to go, Pittsburgh was just a single first down away from clinching the victory. Snell then carried the ball four yards up the middle, followed by a 13-yard dash around the left end.
Benny Snell football led to victory formation for the Steelers.
“It’s a war every game, you can never underestimate any opponent in the NFL,” Snell said of the victory. “We’re finding ways to win, and we’re winning. I’m happy and I’m proud of us. … Whatever my role is [moving forward], that belongs in the coaches’ hands. I know every time they call my number, I’m going to execute.”
After the win, the former Wildcat couldn’t help but point out the plethora of Kentucky fans that filled Paul Brown Stadium. Before and after the game, Snell signed autographs and greeted fans.
He appreciated each and every one of them, saying the warm welcome “felt like home.”
“We’re home! We’re home,” Snell told KSR. “It was amazing, I could see all of the little patches of blue, I could hear people screaming my name. It just felt like love, it felt like home. I was embraced. I love it.”
As for his career-high 98-yards on the ground, the NFL might as well pencil that in as a 100-yard outing.
That’s how it went down in Snell’s mind, at least.
“The 98 yards, I’ll take that as 100. You’re not telling me any different, that’s 100 yards to me,” Snell said with a laugh.
During his weekly call-in radio show this evening, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said as impressive as Snell’s game was on the surface, for him to do it in Cincinnati with the Big Blue Nation in the stands cheering him on made it even more special.
“That’s really great, I talked to Benny today, you could tell he was really excited,” Stoops said. “For him to do it in Cincinnati with a bunch of Kentucky fans rooting him on, I bet he had a lot of fun.”
Snell agrees, saying that moment in front of Kentucky fans was something he “dreamed about.”
“It was amazing, this is what I dreamed about,” Snell told KSR. “Whenever I got my shot, I was going to try to execute and do my best.”