By LARRY VAUGHT
In Kentucky’s first game, redshirt freshman running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. ran five times for 34 yards and showed the speed and strength that successful SEC backs must have.
However, he also fumbled twice, including once at the goal line. That obviously brought back memories to coach Mark Stoops of him also fumbling in the Blue-White Game to end spring practice because Rodriguez has not had a rushing attempt the last two games.
Stoops said the fumbles were “part of the reason” the running back has not played.
“We do have confidence in Chris. Need to get him back in there. That was part of it. The other part of it was A.J. (Rose) and Kavosiey (Smoke) doing some really good things. But, yeah, you can’t miss out on opportunities and put the ball on the ground,” Stoops said.
Rose has had 16, 17 and 14 carries in UK’s three wins. Those 47 carries have gained 192 yards — just over 4 yards per run. Smoke, another freshman, had seven carries the first game, 11 in game two and 16 for 81 yards against Florida in game three. His 34 carries have resulted in 251 yards — an average of over 7 yards per run.
Still, Stoops emphasized it has not forgot about the 5-11, 215-pound Rodriguez.
“He’ll get back out there. We have faith in him and confidence. We can use him. He is different than the other two. He’s young, as well, a little bit inexperienced. It’s hard to say what would happen with certain runs, with certain guys in critical moments. He’ll get back in the fold,” Stoops said.
Smoke is a 5-9, 225-pound redshirt freshman who has shown an explosiveness that’s hard to miss. He might also be the best receiver among UK’s back, something that could benefit new starting quarterback Sawyer Smith.
Stoops said Smoke will be getting more playing time starting with Saturday’s game at Mississippi State.
“He’s doing some really good things, making good cuts, some strong runs, breaking tackles, some good things,” Stoops said.
Rose is still listed No. 1 on the depth chart ahead of Smoke. Stoops insists the two are “interchangeable”
“It can change. It’s not to say that it won’t. A lot of times it’s just by series, who’s in there. Sometimes based on carries is how we’re doing on that particular drive,” Stoops said Monday.
“I think we really had a nice plan as far as keeping Florida off balance. Also got to give credit to Coach Gran his staff because we were really efficient at moving the football and controlled a big portion of this game. Really had them off balance, against a good physical team that was very disruptive. To be able to run the ball like we did, but also throw it… We threw it more the Florida. More attempts than they did. Kept them off balance.
“I thought our line did a good job of keeping protection as well. A team that had that many sacks and pressures, throw it 35 plus times, whatever it was, depending on the scrambles, only get the one sack by missed assignment was pretty effective by our offensive line.”
Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead has noticed what the UK running backs can do.
“Asim Rose has good vison and is a long strider, more a linear or a one-cut guy, more of an I-Back,” the Mississippi State coach said. “Then, Kavosiey Smoke, you saw him in the Florida game, a really explosive, quick [runner] with a little bit better change of direction.
“Those two guys really complement each other very well and, quite frankly, run behind a very big, physical and aggressive offensive line.”