Jonathan George a running back Kentucky can count on

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 18, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

At the Kentucky football offices, lists go out every week of players who miss classes or tutoring sessions.

There is one name the coaches never see on those lists: Jonathan George.

"Just follow him around and watch him," running backs coach Steve Pardue said of the 5-foot-10, 223-pound junior. "He always does what he's supposed to be doing. He's a guy you can always count on to be doing what he's supposed to be doing and he'll give you good effort every day."

So maybe George, who began the season as the Cats' third-string running back behind CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders, won't end up on any All-America lists.

Maybe he won't get on a list as one of the best running backs in school history.

Maybe he isn't UK's strongest running back.

Maybe he isn't UK's speediest running back.

But George is reliable, and not just off the field.

So far this season, he has accounted for more touchdowns (four) than any other player on the team not named Maxwell Smith. George is third on the team in all-purpose yards, averaging 65.3 a game.

"I always tell myself just to be ready to play whenever because you never know what can happen," George said. "You never know when you're going to get your opportunity to play."

Pardue was pleased to see George make the most of his big opportunity against Western Kentucky last Saturday. With Sanders suspended and Williams battling an injury, George scored three touchdowns, including an 11-yard run that put the Cats ahead in overtime. Those three scores were more than he's had in his two previous seasons.

"John's got a lot of speed; he's got some power," Pardue said. "He did a good job the other night. I thought he really made some good plays in the passing game. I was really proud of his effort."

George probably will be the starter when Kentucky (1-2) heads to Gainesville to take on No. 14 Florida on Saturday. Williams has been limited with a hip strain this week. Pardue listed the senior starter as "questionable," noting that Williams is "not moving really well" right now.

Sanders has served his suspension after he was cited for marijuana possession on Sept. 13 with two teammates, but probably won't start.

Coach Joker Phillips said on Monday that George most likely will start.

"The way he played, he deserves to be the starter," Phillips said of George, who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Other than freshman Demarcus Sweat's gaudy 26.7 yards-per-catch average, George has the highest average per catch (10.3) on the team. He has the fourth-most catches and the most of any player who isn't a wide receiver.

But George and his running back counterparts are going to have to do more to get UK's running game going.

The Cats rank 105th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in rushing offense with 68 carries for 319 yards. Falling behind early in games has been part of the problem, with UK forced to abandon its running plan. After three games, UK has more than double the number of passes as runs.

"We ran the ball pretty well against Louisville; just the game got out of hand and we couldn't run it," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "Last week, I would've liked to have run the ball better than we did against the looks we were getting. I tried to stay with it for a pretty good while, trying to make it happen, and finally gave up and decided it wasn't going to happen and started throwing it all the time."

It won't get any easier at the Swamp on Saturday.

The Gators (3-0) are the 29th-best defense in the country at stopping the run, holding teams to 106 yards a game on the ground.

"We need to run the ball better than what we have," Sanders said. "We need to be able to run the ball more efficiently than we're running it right now, more consistently, I should say."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com

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