UK Football

Cats have triple threat at running back

Jojo Kemp, left, Mikal Horton, center and Boom Williams
Jojo Kemp, left, Mikal Horton, center and Boom Williams Herald-Leader

There are three Kentucky running backs with a fun story line going into Saturday's game at South Carolina.

There's Jojo Kemp, who almost single footedly carried the Cats to an upset victory over the Gamecocks at Commonwealth Stadium last season, employing the Wildcat package for 131 yards and three touchdowns.

There's Boom Williams, who had to sit out that South Carolina win after getting in trouble for an air gun incident on campus earlier that week.

Then there's Mikel Horton, who is carrying some momentum into this game after saving the game last week with his 12-yard touchdown late.

As much as Kentucky's depth of talent at wide receiver is discussed, the running back room has plenty of options, too.

"We have a very talented backfield," said Williams, who combined with Kemp and Horton to run for 201 yards on 26 carries (6.8 yards per run) last week against Louisiana-Lafayette.

"We've got a lot of talented guys in that backfield. You need that in SEC play and we're definitely going to need that going into SEC game one against South Carolina."

Kemp had a 32-yard scamper up the far sideline when it looked like UK's offense had stalled. Williams had the 75-yard lightning fast opening play run.

And then Horton with his game saver.

"All the backs had their moments," Coach Mark Stoops said after the win. "All those guys, keeping their head in the game and pulling for each other. You never know who you're going to count on to step up and make that play."

With each running back, position coach Chad Scott found reasons to be happy.

Williams' disciplined runs, and "Jojo did what Jojo does and made a big football play," Scott said. "I'm proud of him, but he made a key blitz pickup that allowed us a touchdown, huge."

And for Horton, it was a breakthrough game, he said.

"We've been saying all along, you're the kind of guy who's going to break tackles and get yards after contact to get oohs and ahhs in terms of your playmaking ability," Scott said of the sophomore.

"To see him do the little things to be successful, I was more happy with him doing that than with the touchdown, honestly."

Even with limited carries — 26 in all — offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was pleased with what he saw from that group, adding that there also were several chances to complete screen plays to them that could've gone for major yards, especially to Horton.

"The fact that the guy's been making plays all through camps and all since I've got here, means he needs opportunities and we're going to give him that," Dawson said. "We didn't run enough plays today."

In general, Dawson's goal is to get the running backs the ball more. The Cajuns stacked the box, almost daring UK to throw it, limiting the number of carries.

"Those guys are going to touch the ball more and that's what I told them because we're going to run more plays as the year goes on," he said of the running backs.

Stoops also stressed the need to find creative ways to get them the ball.

"That's where we have to get better offensively as well: we didn't have as many completions as we wanted and we didn't have as many touches as we wanted, we didn't have as many runs as we wanted," he said.

Kentucky likely will try to run it at South Carolina on Saturday, with the Gamecocks giving up 6.5 yards per carry and 208 yards on the ground to North Carolina last week.

South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier said it's hard to be too frustrated with his defense when it gave up just 13 points last game, none in the second half. But he wants to see more containment, especially after the Gamecocks allowed running back Elijah Hood to rush for 138 yards.

"We have to work on run defense, pass defense," he said. "We have to work on everything. ... One player ran for about 140 yards on us. I think he averaged 11, 12 yards a carry."

All of UK's running backs would like to be that guy who can run for 140 yards on South Carolina on Saturday and any of them could be.

"They all took advantage of the opportunity to go out there and make a play and showed obviously ability to make big plays," Scott said. "I was pleased with that."