The Wildcats’ No. 13 ranking will be put to the test when they travel to College Station, Texas, to take on Texas A&M on Saturday night at Kyle Field.
The game pits the student — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops — against the teacher — Jimbo Fisher. Stoops was defensive coordinator at Florida State under Fisher before taking the head coaching job at a school known more for being a blueblood — in basketball.
“This is the first time we’ve played each other,” Stoops told reporters. “You guys have heard me talk about (Fisher) and credit him back for a lot of things for every year I’ve been here. I’ve learned different things from him, there’s no question.”
The lessons learned have paid off with the Wildcats (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) coming into the game having won their first five games of the season for the first time since 2008. They will be looking to go 6-0 for the first time since 1950 when they take on the Aggies (3-2, 1-1 SEC).
The game also features one of the nation’s best runners going up against one of the best run defenses.
Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr. leads the FBS in carries and is averaging 127.8 yards per game. Asked about Snell, Fisher thought hard for a moment and said he had never seen another running back like the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Snell.
But then he quickly changed his mind.
“He reminds me of the way Emmitt used to run,” Fisher told the Dallas Morning News. Emmitt, of course is Emmitt Smith, the former Dallas Cowboys running back and the NFL’s career rushing leader.
Snell will have his work cut out for him. The Aggies’ rush defense under defensive coordinator Mike Elko is allowing just 85 yards per game. That’s sixth best in the FBS.
Last season, opponents carved up the A&M defense, which was ranked 70th in the nation against the run.
“They run the ball really well, and we stop the run really well, so I’m looking forward to a tough, physical game,” A&M junior linebacker Tyrel Dodson said.
Stopping Snell is only one challenge facing the A&M defense. Junior-college transfer quarterback Terry Wilson has been nothing short of steady in guiding the Wildcats to wins in their first five game.
Wilson has completed 62 of 93 passes for 595 yards and two touchdowns. He has run for three scores and 300 yards.
The Aggies have their own dual-threat quarterback in Kellen Mond, who has thrown for 1,221 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for four scores.
But Mond struggled in a 24-17 win over Arkansas last week, going 17 of 26 for 201 yards. He threw two interceptions for the second straight game.
“I think we’re a little bit inconsistent,” Mond admitted, adding that he needs to take better care of the ball. “It takes that one small penalty or interception that I threw to kind of turn the game around.”
Trayveon Williams is A&M’s answer to Snell. Williams has rushed for 582 yards and six touchdowns and is averaging more than 6.0 yards per carry.
Camron Buckley leads A&M receivers with 18 catches for 278 yards. He also provided bulletin board material that might come back to haunt the Aggies.
“I didn’t even know Kentucky was a top-15 team,” Buckley told reporters on Monday.
Defensive end Kingsley Keke had a little more respect for Kentucky.
“We do pretty well against the run, so that shouldn’t be a big deal for us, but they run the ball really well with Benny Snell so we’ll be ready to play,” Keke predicted.
In the win over Arkansas, the A&M defense gave up a total of 248 yards. The Aggies might need a similar effort to beat the Wildcats on Saturday.
The Kentucky defense is licking its chops at the idea of going against Mond. The Wildcats are allowing just 288.8 yards and 12.6 points per game, which ranks fourth in the FBS.