Kentucky freshman Kemp proving he deserves more carries

broberts@herald-leader.comSeptember 14, 2013 

The Kentucky ground game went nowhere in the first half of Saturday's 27-13 loss to Louisville.

While his teammates struggled to move the ball, freshman running back Jojo Kemp watched and waited.

Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George — the top two guys on UK's depth chart — ran nine times for 28 yards in the first half.

The first carry of the third quarter went to Kemp, who took it around the right side for a 10-yard gain. His next touch went for 47 yards — UK's longest play of the game.

The takeaway was clear.

"Jojo has got to see some more time," UK Coach Mark Stoops said. "He's got to play."

After the game, Kemp deflected questions about his lack of playing time. He said he wasn't frustrated standing on the sideline while UK's run game stalled. He said he had complete faith in the coaching staff.

When he was told what Stoops had said about him, he finally agreed that maybe it is time to get him the ball more.

"I guess so," he said with a laugh. "If that's what Coach Stoops said."

Kemp led the Cats in rushing for the second consecutive game. He had five carries for 80 yards against Louisville. Last week against Miami (Ohio), Kemp ran 12 times for 78 yards.

Throwing in his one carry in the season opener against Western Kentucky, Kemp is leading the Cats in rushing with 167 yards on 18 attempts. That's an average of 9.3 yards per carry.

"Every opportunity I get, I just want to make the best of it," Kemp said. "If they're going to give me one carry, I'm going to make sure that one carry — I'm going to give it all I got."

Kemp's 47-yard run late in the third quarter helped set up a UK field goal that pulled the Cats within 20-6 and kept hope alive for the time being. He later ran 12 yards on fourth-and-2 to extend UK's only touchdown drive.

"He gave us a big-time spark," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "That's the best he's looked since he's been here. Any scrimmage, practice — that's by far the best he's looked. And he's got to do that in practice. And now I've seen that in a game, so I understand that he has that in him. And I've got more confidence in him now than I ever have. And he's got to continue to do that in practice. He hasn't shown that in practice."

Kemp was one of the most highly touted signees in Stoops' first recruiting class. Rivals.com ranked him as the No. 10 all-purpose back in the country, and he picked Kentucky despite offers from several other BCS schools.

He's not used to standing on the sideline, but he's also still getting accustomed to the college game. Kemp acknowledged the speed of college defenses is much faster than anything he's ever seen. He also said there were things in practice that he has to work on — like picking up blitzes.

"Whenever I get those things fixed, I'll hopefully see the field a lot more," he said.

Brown — like Stoops — was pleased with what he saw Saturday. If he sees more of the same over the next two weeks, UK fans probably will see more of Kemp against Florida on Sept. 28.

"I saw it in high school, but he hasn't shown it here. Obviously he showed it today," Brown said. "He played in a different gear, and he earned himself more playing time. There's no question."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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