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By Matt Overing
Nothing negative can be taken from UK’s spring game on Saturday.
The scrimmage was designed to be vanilla — no surprises, just a solid, clean football game.
UK ran the ball 55 times compared to 51 passes. Running backs were the best performers, grounding an offense that needs to take a big step forward after a mediocre 2013 season.
Expecting every question answered would be too much to ask for at this point. The offense wasn’t close to being full strength. Head coach Mark Stoops said fans would see more “quality” in the fall.
“You could see we are still a little bit thin in certain positions,” Stoops said after the game. “When you’re putting on two teams, it waters you down.”
The two biggest position battles were not watered down.
Each member of the backfield produced on the field but only clouded any choice of a clear winner.
At running back, junior transfer Braylon Heard started the game, but it was sophomore Jojo Kemp that led the game with 93 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Mikel Horton ran more than any other player, carrying the ball 13 times for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore Patrick Towles started the game under center and threw for a team-high 126 yards, but threw one interception and was sacked a team-high three times. He was the only quarterback without a touchdown.
The on-field production has been matched by an improved mindset off of it. Players were hardly “vanilla” in their emotions before the game and on the sidelines. Some players, including senior Bud Dupree and sophomore Jaleel Hytchye, starred in a music video played on the big screen before and after the game.
When the video played, players danced. Over 30,000 fans cheered.
“I love the support, that’s why I want to have fun out there,” Kemp said.
Kemp celebrated after both of his touchdowns, calling his post-touchdown performance “a little mojo swag” on the field.
Special teams coach Craig Naviar said he wanted to see solid all-around play.
“We kept it simple and basic,” Naviar said. “We wanted to see guys execute, play fast and physical … wanted to see guys get after it and show us where we’re at right now on offense, defense and special teams.”
Keeping it simple got the job done for the UK coaching staff. There were no added injuries, no shockingly bad performances.
In the end, though, questions still linger. The team still has no quarterback. Leaders will have to emerge in the offseason, a time when Stoops and his staff can’t be guiding the team in drills.
“With the new rules, we are not allowed to be out there with them when there’s a football out there,” Stoops said. “They have got to have great leadership and continue to work through the summer and get quality work.”