ATHENS, Ga. -- As the Georgia Bulldogs' run defense continues to show uncertainty, its biggest test might come against Kentucky running back Benny Snell.
Snell has taken the opportunity in his junior season and become a top producer in the Wildcats’ offense. He leads the SEC in rushing with 935 yards. Snell is a finalist for the Maxwell Award -- granted to the nation’s best running back -- and has caused many problems for opposing defenses this season.
"They have one of the premier guys in the country toting the ball, who's probably the best I've ever seen with his vision,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said of Snell. “I mean, he never misses a hole. He sets his blockers up, and he does not want to be tackled. You have to go in with a willingness to be more physical than him.”
Smart would know because he’s seen Snell’s success first-hand.
Snell has been a menace for Georgia in his first two contests against the Bulldogs, racking up a combined 208 yards and three touchdowns. With the inconsistencies of Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson, the Wildcats have relied more and more on Snell’s legs.
That poses a problem for Georgia as the Bulldogs have had trouble stopping the run this season.
"He's a hard runner and a tough, tough football player,” Georgia junior defensive back Tyrique McGhee said. “The guy, he loves football and you can see it with the energy he brings every Saturday. He's going to be the motor and engine to that offense."
Georgia’s run defense has had two games where it has met the “standard” set by Smart -- 54 yards to South Carolina and 66 allowed to Tennessee in blowout wins. Otherwise, it has been a struggle for the Bulldogs as they miss the luxury of depth that was in the locker room last season.
The injury woes haven’t helped, either. Georgia has dealt with absences from David Marshall, Devonte Wyatt and DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle on the defensive line. Monty Rice, a starting inside linebacker, missed the Missouri game with an MCL sprain, and Georgia subsequently allowed four rushing touchdowns.
Georgia has allowed 275 rushing yards to LSU and 178 yards to Florida.
“It's tough in the midst of a season to just magically get better,” Smart said. “We try to do it through fundamentals, technique, individual block destruction, demeanor, and attitude. We have what we have. We'd love to have some more depth at those positions, but we don't. At the end of the day, you have to block protect and you have to tackle. It's hard to say, well, we're going to just change all that in one week and get better.”
In a game where a trip to the SEC Championship is on the line, Georgia may have to contain Snell in order to get there.
“Every team has dual threats,” Georgia inside linebacker Tae Crowder said. “It’ll be a great challenge for us, but everybody’s got great players.”