ORLANDO – An early-season meeting between Kentucky and Mississippi State has been the subject of much scrutiny from the coaches of both teams involved in Tuesday’s Citrus Bowl.
The Wildcats won the Sept. 22 game at home, 28-7, over a Bulldogs’ team led by first-year head coach Joe Moorhead, the former Penn State offensive coordinator. Getting to see Moorhead’s offense and former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Bob Shoop’s unit on film against Kentucky proved “really valuable,” head coach James Franklin said this week.
“What you’re always trying to do is break down and study similar opponents, people that run a similar defensive scheme as you, people that run a similar offensive scheme," Franklin said. "Obviously [with] Mississippi State, it’s unusual, because both sides are similar. Their defense and their offense have a lot of similarities. We spent a lot of time studying that.”
Kentucky defensive coordinator Matt House said that while there were similarities in the offenses of Mississippi State and Penn State, the personnel was different. He cited the play of quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Miles Sanders and wide receivers K.J. Hamler and Juwan Johnson.
“I think the quarterbacks are different,” he said. “Sanders presents different issues. He’s really effective. I think Hamler, the slot, Johnson, the receiver, that’s where the biggest differences are.
“I think they do a great job of using their personnel, creating formations and matchups where they can isolate and create one-one-ones. So, is there similarity in the system? Absolutely. But when you look at the personnel, there’s quite a bit of difference.”
Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky’s leading rusher, comes from a football family. His father, Ben Snell, was a running back out of Division III Ohio Northern who spent the 1998 season on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad and later played professionally in NFL Europe and the XFL.
The big name in the family is former New York Jets running back Matt Snell, who is Benny Snell Jr.’s great uncle. Matt Snell rushed for 121 yards in leading the Jets to their monumental upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
“I used to have a little football,” Benny Snell Jr., said. “I used to run around, throw, and catch with my dad. As I started to get a little bit older, that’s when I started to catch on to my great uncle, Matt Snell.
“I got to see a little bit of film on him. Never got to talk to him because he’s older, but it’s just crazy to see when I watch my dad’s college highlights, you cut that on, and then you cut on to Matt Snell, and you see the comparison on how they run … running through people, power runners.