UK vs Mississippi State Football

Kentucky Wildcats running back Benny Snell Jr. (26) yells at the crowd during the game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 28 to 7. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Motivation can be a big factor for a team when used properly, and in Kentucky’s 28-7 over Mississippi State, the Cats had plenty to be motivated for.

First, there is Benny Snell, who once again was on the receiving end of some Twitter trash talk leading up to Saturday’s game. Snell said himself and the offense could run on anybody, and Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill let it be known he thought that wasn’t true.

That trash talking continued as both teams went through pregame warm-ups, as there was a pregame scuffle on the field that needed officials and coaches to separate.                      

“They were like ‘I want you, I want you,’ and I’m like ‘oh yeah I want you!’” Snell said. “… We took that as disrespect, that’s disrespectful for them come in our home and do that.”

Snell ended up getting the last laugh as he had one of his signature “Snell performances” by rushing for 165 yards on 25 carries and four touchdowns.

The performance was record-breaking, as Snell broke Randall Cobb’s school record for most touchdowns in a career. His third touchdown of the night officially broke the record, which was a 36-yard touchdown where Snell ran through a big hole created by Logan Stenberg and Justin Rigg on the left side of the line to allow him to run untouched into the end zone.

“My o-line, my tight ends, I’m nothing without them,” Snell said. “Especially with the receivers blocking on the outside, they do such a great job getting movement and getting me to the end zone.” 

Snell’s touchdown runs arguably sparked the loudest moments in Kroger Field on Saturday night, which hosted 60,037 for the game. Even in the 60 degree temperatures and constant downpour of rain, fans stood on their feet and waved their rally towels to give UK the extra fuel they’ve always been desiring from the fans.

“They made a difference, the fans made a difference, the students made a difference, greatly appreciate the support,” head coach Mark Stoops said after the win. 

However, the amount of trash talk from Mississippi State and the rowdy crowd was not Kentucky’s top source of motivation. The thing on the top of everyone’s minds was Marco Shemwell, the four-year-old boy who died earlier in the week after being struck by a car at UK’s home game last weekend.

Before the game, everyone in the stadium held a moment of silence for the Shemwell family to honor the little boy and remind the players of what they’re playing for. Snell wrote “RIP Marco” on his wrist tape, and carried that with him all 165 yards he ran for.

“When you really just look at life and how short it is, it’s heartbreaking,” Snell said of the Shemwell family’s situation. “This team, we played for him, we played for that family.”

There are a lot of players, including Snell, who are deserving of receiving a game ball from Saturday’s game, but Stoops is going to spend his Sunday delivering the game ball to the Shemwell family.

“I'm glad we played good for Marco and the Shemwell family,” Stoops said. “We're going to bring this game ball to them tomorrow for Marco and the Shemwell family and I'm so glad that we played well in honor of him and that family.” 

As the season goes on, the impact of the tragedy will slowly wear off, but motivation will always surround the team. Someone will likely discredit Snell’s ability again, Joshua Paschal and John Schlarman will continue battling their illnesses and people will continue to question whether Kentucky is the real deal or not. 

As the Cats have shown through these four games, they will bottle up all those factors and use it to fuel them on the football field.

“We always got motivation on this team on this team, we always got chips on our shoulders that make us want to go harder,” Snell said.