UK football utilizes offensive backfield personnel

UK running back Jonathan George runs the ball down the field to score a touchdown during the first half of the UK vs. Miami(Ohio) football game at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, September 7, 2013. UK won its first home game of the season 41-7. Photo by Tessa Lighty

By Matt Overing

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UK football has run its offense by committee this season, as several players have seen time in the backfield.

Sophomore quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow have each started a game thus far, with Whitlow taking the reins against Western Kentucky University and Smith getting the start against Miami University (Ohio). In both games, the quarterbacks rotated offensive drives.

“I liked it,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “They both have their strengths, and our offense has some good packages with both of them.”

But it will be Smith starting against the No. 7 University of Louisville Cardinals on Saturday, according to the most recent depth chart.

Smith finished last week’s game against Miami with 310 yards and three touchdowns, completing 15-of-23 passes. Whitlow threw for 103 yards on 10-of-12 passing against the RedHawks. He added 48 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.

Senior running back Jonathan George said rotating quarterbacks has worked well for the offense.

“Honestly, it’s been a smooth process for everybody on offense,” George said. “Both guys can come in and produce. I feel comfortable with either guy at quarterback.”

UK has cycled through running backs as well. Seven players earned at least one rushing attempt in the 41-7 rout against Miami. Freshman Jojo Kemp led the way with 12 carries for 78 yards.

Kemp said he was ready when his number was called.

“Whenever I got in, I was going to make the best of it,” Kemp said. “They put me in, so I had to make every carry count.”

Senior running back Raymond Sanders started the game, but did not play in the second half. He finished the game with six carries for 39 yards and a touchdown.

Sanders said UK’s balance kept Miami guessing.

“We have the pass and the run so it makes it difficult for them,” Sanders said. “We have a strong group of running backs and we want to be balanced and catch teams off guard.”

George finished with six rushing attempts for 27 yards against Miami. As a team, UK racked up 262 yards on 39 carries. George called offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s play-calling “ruthless,” and added that UK’s offense hasn’t reached its potential.

“We have a great offense,” George said. “I feel like Saturday was just a preview of what we can be. We had a couple of mistakes that prevented us from making even more plays.”

Those mistakes, namely pre-snap penalties, are what coach Stoops wants to fix before UK plays Louisville on Saturday.

“The big thing is discipline,” Stoops said. “The pre-snap penalties, the foolish penalties after we make a play, obviously, we can’t afford.”

George agreed the penalties were a problem against Miami.

“Those types of things can be prevented and they should be prevented,” George said.

The Cats will have a chance to correct their mistakes when they take on Louisville this Saturday at noon at Commonwealth Stadium.