Unfounded running game can carry, produce for Cats


UK tailback Josh Clemons celebrates his touchdown during the first half of UK’s season opener against Western Kentucky at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Monday, Sept. 1, 2011 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Brandon Goodwin

By: Cody Porter

The days of seeing a solo running back carry the load for UK football are in the past.

Names like Sonny Collins, George Adams, Mark Higgs, Moe Williams, Artose Pinner and Rafael Little probably won’t be emerging in the foreseeable future for the Cats.

For the uninitiated minds, those are all backs that had career-making seasons at UK, and could single-handedly carry the offensive load.

While the talent is seemingly there for that to occur, head coach Joker Phillips seems intent on divvying up the carries between his speedsters and newly added power backs, freshmen Justin Taylor and Dyshawn Mobley.

“When is the last time we have made it through this thing with one back or with two backs or with three backs,” Joker asked last week. “When was the last time? It just doesn’t happen and I’m talking about in this league. It is not just us, but in this league it is very seldom that a back lasts 12 games in this league. If we had to do it today they all would play.”

As long as it comes to fruition, this could be a program-changing move that keeps Phillips’ name out of the coaching carousel.

It may not be a popular choice, especially for the handful of fans who witnessed a pass-first, hurry-up offense during the spring game, but until the kinks of a young pass game are worked out, setting a tone with a balanced running game should be a priority.

In testing this theory, Phillips allowed the running game to go to work against the defense, which at least on paper, probably contains the team’s top strengths.

The result? The running game moved the ball 98 yards for a touchdown.

“We put the ball on the two-yard line – defense has to get itself off the field, offense has to get a first down so it has a chance to operate after that – and our offense took it 98 yards.  That was a positive thing, 98 yards, 14 plays,” Phillips said. “That is hard to do.  There weren’t any huge plays in it but we had some consistency.  There were no penalties, no turnovers, no sacks, no negative yardage plays.  That’s a good teaching point for us tomorrow.”

Offensive Coordinator Randy Sanders elaborated on the drive, saying, “Just being able to go 98 yards without having a 30 or 40-yard play mixed in there means that you had a lot of guys do things and know their role.”

In my time following UK football, I’ve never known of the Cats having that capability. Once on campus last season, sophomore Josh Clemons had the appearance of a traditional SEC back, such as Alabama’s Trent Richardson, something UK has lacked in recent years.

But injuries could hamper Phillips’ plans for the team, as has been the case with other positions thus far.

Following Saturday’s scrimmage, Phillips said senior CoShik Williams sprained his foot. Williams is a part of a two-back race with fellow senior Raymond Sanders for the starting position.

While it certainly can be a problem, UK cannot fret knowing it can put another back on field without losing SEC-quality. For the first time in nearly 30 years, it can go three or four deep before reaching its freshman duo.

The 1984 season featured a UK backfield, which in its past seasons was led by George Adams, become a proverbial three-headed monster.

Adams’ 1,085 yard season was accompanied by a 400-plus yard season by not only sophomore Marc Logan, but also freshman Mark Higgs.

Among that trio, none went undrafted or unrecognized with SEC merit.

Higgs, the youngest of the group, finished his career in 1987, paving the way for the last of a slew of successful backs, including Ivy Joe Hunter.

Similarly, Taylor and/or Mobley can become their own Ivy Joe Hunter of sorts. The two power backs are set to endeavor into their first full season of the SEC’s hard knocks, so having them ready, as has been suggested over recent weeks, could be crucial.

But as senior offensive guard Larry Warford said Saturday, “they’re not scared to hit, I really like that about them.”