UK Football: RB Sanders knows a good ground game could help Kentucky's young QBs
Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders breaks into open space during the Wildcats' game against Louisville last month. Sanders rushed for 59 yards last week against South Carolina, and he knows he could be needed to help the two freshman quarterbacks expected to play for the Wildcats on Saturday against Mississippi State. (Clay Jackson / October 5, 2012)
“I had just been anxious to touch the ball, so I tried to make the best of it,” Sanders said. “I just wanted to get in the end zone. A lot of my teammates from high school went to South Carolina also, so I just wanted to go out there and just play hard and try to get a win for the team.”
Kentucky didn’t win despite leading 17-7 at halftime. Still, Sanders had a 24-yard run and showed more determination than ever even on 1- and 2-yard runs where he was hit in the backfield.
“Coach (Randy Sanders) was telling us all week that they were just giving up 67 yards per game rushing. Those 1- and 2-yard runs helped us stay ahead of the (first down) chains and helped us get first downs and be able to call manageable plays for those first downs,” Sanders said. “They are a tough defense when it is third and 15 or third and 22. With those defensive ends rushing, you have to have time for those plays. So getting any positive yards helped get those first downs.”
Kentucky likely will need Sanders and Jonathan George to run even more this Saturday against Mississippi State. Starting quarterback Maxwell Smith is out indefinitely after having ankle surgery Tuesday and CoShik Williams, the starting running back when the season opened, is out for the year with a hip injury. Kentucky is turning the offense over to true freshmen quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles.
The Wildcats are averaging 4.3 yards per rush, but have run the ball only 27 times per game. Opponents are averaging 45 rushes per game and 4.2 yards per attempt.
“I feel like I can do that (run more) to help the young quarterbacks. Hopefully, I keep improving and keep showing I can carry the ball and make plays and get the ball in space and different situations,” Sanders said. “Those young quarterbacks will be ready to go and we just want to go out there and make plays for them.
“We have run it pretty efficient. Hopefully me and other guys keep our heads up and keep running hard and trying to get those gains, and those 1- and 2-yard gains will eventually bust to 40 or 50 yards. We just have to make sure we keep moving the ball and find the end zone.”
Sanders also said he’s fine after hitting his knee trying to make a tackle after a South Carolina interception. He had surgery on both knees last year that limited him to just six games.
“It didn’t scare me. It hurt more than it scared me,” he said of the knee. “It wasn’t expected. I was turning to make the tackle and Jalen when he dove low at him, he just hit me on the knee. It is getting better. I have practiced. They are doing a great job limiting my reps and getting me well. I should be ready for the game.”
He had to miss the loss to Western Kentucky after he was cited for marijuana possession two nights before the game along with teammates Bookie Cobbins and Marcus Caffey. He was suspended for the game but came back to gain 48 yards on 10 carries at Florida.
“It was pretty hard, but I kept my faith in God. I knew everything happens for a reason and whatever reason he chooses to happen I have no control over. I just wanted to keep my faith in him and knew he was teaching me a lesson,” Sanders said. “Mainly I was just worried about coming back and my teammates accepting me.
“Once those guys accepted me and showed me that they were fine with me being their teammate and they just wanted me to come out here and work hard, I just wanted to come out and do the best for those guys.”
Sanders said he was “embarrassed” by his mistake and the negative attention it put on him and the football program.
“Being an athlete, those things get more of a rise on television or in the media. But my family did a great job supporting me,” Sanders said. “My mom talked to me. My dad talked to me. They supported me and let me know forgiveness was there.
“God forgives and everyone should forgive. If you believe in Christ, you will be able to forgive. A lot of people forgave me for those actions and what happened. I was pretty much ready to get on the field after that tough loss when I knew I could have helped my team.”
He says the support he got from his parents helped him more than they’ll ever know.
“They understand that we are not perfect. It helped me to realize that they care about me and want the best for me,” the UK junior said. “They were disappointed, but they were able to help me. We were able to talk. They let me know they were disappointed but that they knew I would do better and just wanted me to keep doing what I was doing on the field and improving. Just know where you are at and what you are doing.
“We just have to learn. Those other guys, we all learned together. I don’t want to put those guys like they are bad guys. We were out together. We are just learning and want to come prove it and keep doing the right things.”
Doing the “right things” against Mississippi State’s defense might not be easy for Sanders and the Wildcats' offense.
“They are pretty physical. We want to come out and do what we like to do, so it is more about us than them,” Sanders said. “Our offensive line has been doing a great job, so we just have to come out and execute and we feel like we can do a lot of things. But they have a great defense, no doubt about that.”