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NCAA Football Kentucky WildcatsSEC Football

Kentucky Wildcats Must Get Help from Running Game

Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY SPORTS

To say that the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats struggled on offense would be quite an understatement. Kentucky ranked 113th nationally in total offense, averaging just 315 yards per contest.

The Big Blue was not so big when they had the ball, ranking 87th nationally in rushing offense (139 yards per game) and 102nd in passing offense (176 yards per contest).

Some of the low numbers can be attributed to the injury suffered by starting quarterback Maxwell Smith, who missed nearly nine games. When Smith went out, opponents dared UK to throw the ball, with true freshman Jalen Whitlow under center.

However, another cause for concern was the running game. Kentucky’s leading rusher last season was Raymond Sanders, who rushed for 669 yards. Jonathan George added 504 yards and Whitlow rushed for 206. The Wildcats were outrushed by their opponents by nearly 300 yards over 12 games.

The challenge for new head coach Mark Stoops, as well as new offensive coordinator Neal Brown, is to find at least one back that can literally carry the load on offense.

Dyshawn Mobley was highly recruited out of Powell High School in Powell, Tenn., but he got only 41 carries last season as a true freshman. Mobley gained 184 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and the previous coaching staff had high hopes for him.

The wild card for Kentucky is the return of Josh Clemons, who missed all of the 2012 season after suffering a knee injury the previous season. In 2011, as a true freshman, Clemons rushed for 279 yards and showed flashes of brilliance in only six games. If he’s healthy, Clemons could be the man to lead the rushing attack.

Kentucky also signed three players that could be in the mix for the running back position in 2013: Jojo Kemp from DeLand, Fla.; Khalid Thomas from Godby High School in Tallahassee, Fla.; and Ryan Timmons, an all-purpose back from Franklin County High School in Frankfort, Ky.

The battle will begin in spring practice, when Brown installs the new offense for the Wildcats. The player or players that understand and execute that offense best will likely be the ones carrying the ball often in 2013.

Whether it’s done with one player or by committee, Kentucky must improve its rushing game in 2013 to be competitive against what will be one of the nation’s toughest schedules.