Fresh faces leading the way for UK football

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 16, 2013 

  • NEXT GAME

    Florida at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28

    TV: ESPN2 or ESPNU

Several of Kentucky's newcomers were on campus for official visits at the same time.

Before some of them even made their official commitment to Kentucky, they made a commitment to each other.

"We decided to come here as a unit, so we're always pushing each other to do our best out there so we can get time on the field and help this team out a lot more," running back Jojo Kemp explained last week.

As a unit, those UK newcomers have become a driving force on both sides of the ball, but especially on offense where they account for more than half (54.3 percent) of the Cats' total yardage.

The Cats' three top receivers — Javess Blue, Ryan Timmons and Jeff Badet — are all Mark Stoops recruits. Newcomers account for 65 percent of the catches and 63.7 percent of the receiving yards.

Kemp, a true freshman, is UK's leading rusher with 167 yards despite having eight fewer carries than senior starter Raymond Sanders.

Behind his career-best 47-yard run in the loss to Louisville, Kemp is averaging 9.28 yards a carry, the best average of any freshman in the country beside Ohio State's Dontre Wilson's 9.31 yards a run.

Kemp was such a bright spot that his head coach vowed that he will get more carries.

That's fine with the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder from DeLand, Fla.

"I guess they got to get me the ball more," he said with a laugh when told Stoops declared it so. "I'm just going to do what I came here to do, and when I touch the ball just give it my all and make sure I don't leave no yardage out there on the field."

From the sound of it, many of that class ranked as high as No. 29 in the nation by Rivals.com, are going to be in the rotation even more.

Even after UK's offense failed to fire for most of the 27-13 loss to No. 7 Louisville, offensive coordinator Neal Brown said one of the bright spots was the "young guys."

"Those freshmen played well — Jeff Badet, Jojo Kemp, Ryan Timmons, those guys played well," Brown said. "We'll start leaning on those guys more, and get a few of those other young guys in the mix also."

Blue, a junior college transfer, is averaging 130.7 all-purpose yards as a returner and receiver. He already has three plays for 40 or more yards. All of last season, UK's entire offense managed just four plays for 40 yards or more.

Blue wasn't here for last season, but he said he already can see a big difference between the offense's big-play ability between the season-opening loss to Western Kentucky and the Louisville game.

"I really do think we've gotten better, but it's something we have to keep working on during the bye week and play strong, really, learn how to finish," Blue said.

Blue isn't alone.

Timmons is averaging 70.7 all-purpose yards and Kemp 59.3. Badet, who has played in just two games, has five plays of 10 yards or more, including two for 20-plus yards.

"They've got a lot better skill players out there running around," Louisville defender Preston Brown said after the game on Saturday. "It's just the pace that they run their offense, they're going to give a lot of people trouble."

Brown certainly hopes so.

He sometimes struggles with how young his offense is. But he knows that it can get better each week.

"We're at the infancy of this program," he said. "So every single day I go into every single meeting — this is cliché and you guys probably won't like it, but this is the God's truth — I go into every single meeting, every single practice and think about: How can we get better today because I know what we're building for."

It's not just on offense that UK is getting young production. Junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith's 41/2 sacks tie him with four other players for best in the nation.

Newcomers account for 20 percent of UK's total tackles and 38 percent of the Cats' tackles for loss.

Of Kentucky's seven pass breakups, four of them have come from players (Nate Willis, Blake McClain) who weren't on last season's 2-10 team.

With a bye week to heal up and improve his young team, which has played eight true freshmen and 14 newcomers so far this season, Stoops promised a brighter future.

"We're going to continue to make strides and move in the right direction," he said.

As long as the young players can continue to nudge each other, Kemp is sure progress will be made.

It was their commitment to each other.

"We can be real good," Kemp said. "We've just got to stay humble and keep pushing the other guys that's around us, and then hopefully when the next class comes up, they got the same mind-set as us so we can get this program to the top."

Florida game time set

Kickoff for Kentucky's game with No. 18 Florida was set for 7 p.m. next Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. It will be shown on either ESPN2 or ESPNU, with network selection coming after Saturday's slate of games.

The game will mark the return of former coach Joker Phillips to Kentucky. He is the wide receivers coach for the Gators, who will play host to Tennessee on Saturday.


Next Game

Florida at Kentucky

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28

TV: ESPN2 or ESPNU

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

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