Benny Snell looked finished.
He was down on one knee on the Kentucky sideline, chugging Gatorade, hoping for more minutes in the timeout.
Every deep, labored breath looked difficult as teammates and trainers came over to check on the sophomore running back.
“I was tired,” Snell confessed of piloting much of UK’s final drive against Ole Miss last week.
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After the timeout ended, Snell capped the 95-yard drive with a touchdown on a direct snap to give UK a short-lived lead.
On that drive, Snell ran the ball nine times for 77 yards, including the single surge into the end zone, his third score of the game.
“No matter what, whether I feel like I’m dog-tired or I got just a little bit of energy I don’t want to be out of the game,” Snell said Tuesday. “I feel like I’m able to make those plays no matter what circumstance my body is in.”
The circumstance Snell’s body is in is another interesting piece to the puzzle.
“He’s a strong guy,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “It takes an awful lot for him to get wore down that way.”
At a couple of points during that drive, offensive coaches on the headset discussed giving Snell a breather, but they had some data fans don’t get.
Fans can recognize the size of Snell’s metaphorical heart by his constantly churning legs, his extra straining for yards.
But Stoops and staff know how quickly Snell’s actual heart can recover.
“With some of the testing we do in the offseason, it’s amazing how quickly his heart rate gets back to normal,” Stoops said in two different interviews this week as UK prepares for a game at Vanderbilt.
“He’s a guy who can handle a lot. He’s a strong guy, can handle a big workload.”
With some of the testing we do in the offseason, it’s amazing how quickly his heart rate gets back to normal. He’s a guy he can handle a lot. He’s a strong guy, can handle a big work load.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky head coach
Chris Morris, Kentucky’s director of performance science, does testing on players for hundreds of things. He’s the one who first told Snell about his shorter recovery time in situations like this.
“I feel like I’m a superhero or something like that,” Snell joked. “It’s a good thing.”
Snell has had blue-caped-type performances lately for Kentucky (6-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference).
Most recently against Tennessee and Ole Miss, Snell ran for a combined 356 yards and six touchdowns.
He leads the conference in rushing with 897 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 188 carries are ninth most in the country this season and 22 more than the next back in the league.
“He’s just got such passion about what he does,” quarterback Stephen Johnson said of Snell, adding later. “He’s incredible.”
After breaking six UK freshman records in 2016, Snell is on the cusp of breaking even more in the next couple of weeks.
With his next touchdown, the sophomore will match Sonny Collins and Moe Williams for most rushing scores in school history with 25.
With just 12 more yards, Snell will become the fastest rusher in Cats history to 2,000 yards and just the ninth to reach that number ever.
Benny Snell has rushed for 897 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
With 103 more yards, Snell will become the first player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Collins and Rafael Little each had more than one 1,000-yard season, but not in back-to-back years.
Snell has four more games to get five rushing touchdowns, which would best Williams’ single-season record.
Snell “excels as the game goes on,” co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw said of the running back, who had 94 yards on 20 carries versus Vandy last season in Lexington.
That’s a huge asset to have as defenses start to wear down and Snell starts to get going.
Kentucky would like to keep him going against a Vanderbilt run defense that is No. 116 nationally (out of 130), allowing 211.6 yards per game and a league-high 23 touchdowns on the ground.
While it’s nice, the coaches don’t necessarily need sports science to tell them Snell is special.
“There’s all kinds of data and GPS and heart monitoring and all kinds of things that are in the technology of watching football,” Hinshaw said. “As coaches, we don’t get into it that much. We just know we want Benny in when it’s near the goal line because he’s strong and can get in the end zone.”
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
4 p.m. (SEC)
SEC rushing leaders
Benny Snell Jr. (UK), 897
Kerryon Johnson (Auburn), 868
Nick Chubb (Georgia), 867
Nick Fitzgerald (Miss. St.), 801
Derrius Guice (LSU), 782
Aeris Williams (Miss. St.), 776
Damien Harris (Alabama), 730
Sony Michel (Georgia), 710
John Kelly (Tenn.), 694
Jordan Wilkins (Ole Miss), 630