LEXINGTON, Ky. — Boom Williams and Benny Snell Jr. once again put on an impressive rushing show for Kentucky, as Williams set the tone and Snell applied the exclamation point to a much-needed win for the Wildcats.
Snell scored the go-ahead touchdown from 1 yard midway through the fourth quarter, Williams broke a 43-yard TD and Kentucky held off South Carolina 17-10 on Saturday night for their third straight series victory over the Gamecocks.
Inconsistent offensively in the first half, the Wildcats (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) got going after trailing 7-3 at halftime with another strong performance by their hard-charging backfield tandem. Williams rushed 15 times for 123 yards including his big run down the left side for a 10-7 lead early in the third quarter.
Snell followed with nine carries for 41 of Kentucky’s 65 yards on the 11-play drive, all achieved on the ground. He capped the drive by taking the direct snap and running left into the end zone with ease, then sealed the win with several runs for first downs that kept the clock moving.
“That’s what I try to look for every time I touch the ball, a first down,” said Snell, who finished with 73 yards on 16 carries.
This effort comes a week after the two combined for 317 yards rushing against New Mexico State with Snell scoring four TDs. Kentucky now has a two-game winning streak after two tough losses following another episode of the Boom and Benny Show — or vice versa.
“Having Boom, Benny, Jojo (Kemp) and all the other running backs is a great asset to have with our offense,” quarterback Stephen Johnson said. “All those guys can get first downs, extend plays and do anything necessary for us to win.”
The Wildcats’ defense preserved the lead with two big sacks on South Carolina’s final possession, including Denzil Ware’s tackle of Brandon McIlwain for a 19-yard loss on fourth and 17. Kentucky recorded a season-high four sacks overall and held the Gamecocks (2-2, 1-2 SEC) to 268 yards.
Kentucky also overcame its largest halftime deficit since rallying from 18 down against South Carolina to win on Oct. 6, 2010.
“That’s the way this football team needs to play,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “You can’t change the past, but we can certainly change our future and push forward.”
South Carolina: Other than a second-quarter TD drive ending with A.J. Turner’s 12-yard TD run and Elliott Fry’s 35-yard field, the Gamecocks didn’t move the ball much. McIlwain completed 15 of 30 passes for 177 yards in his second straight start but South Carolina managed just 91 yards rushing. “We really lacked execution starting the game offensively,” first-year coach Will Muschamp said. “We struggled and couldn’t get anything going in the throwing game. … We just never got into sync and defensively we really struggled to play blocks up front and hold the point against people.”
Kentucky: Stoops’ midweek blasting of his defense seemed to do the trick as the Wildcats held the Gamecocks to 3 of 13 on third-down conversions and got to the quarterback. “We really had to take it (the criticism) to heart,” nose guard Naquez Pringle said. “Seeing what we could do and accomplish, we had to finish. It was a great win.”
Williams continued to show durability and explosiveness with his second straight 100-yard rushing game. The offensive line yielded four sacks and Kentucky converted just 4 of 13 third-down chances but gained 351 yards. Johnson held the ball too long on many snaps but completed 11 of 19 passes for 135 yards in his first start in place of injured Drew Barker (back).
South Carolina: The Gamecocks play the first of five home games over six weeks next Saturday against Texas A&M, seeking their first win in three meetings against the Aggies.
Kentucky: The Wildcats visit defending national champion and top-ranked Alabama next Saturday.
AP College Football: collegefootball.ap.org