UK Football

Boom is back with Cats after long week without football

Kentucky Wildcats running back Boom Williams (18) cheered while wearing street clothes and his jersey as the University of Kentucky played Eastern Kentucky University in Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, October 03, 2015. This is third quarter college football action. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats running back Boom Williams (18) cheered while wearing street clothes and his jersey as the University of Kentucky played Eastern Kentucky University in Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, October 03, 2015. This is third quarter college football action. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Outsiders might never know what issues Boom Williams was dealing with that led to him to not play in the Eastern Kentucky game, but the running back said on Tuesday that all of it is behind him as Kentucky turns its attention to Auburn.

"I was just dealing with some personal issues, off-the-field issues that affected my play," Williams told the media in his first interview since the Missouri game. "I wasn't the guy who they needed me to be. So that affected my play and so they didn't want that to cost the team, my personal issues, so that's why I was off the field."

In regular clothes with his jersey on over them, Williams was animated on the UK sidelines against the Colonels on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium, the first to greet players as they came off the field, situating himself in the middle of offensive huddles.

"I was just helping those guys with my presence and my support out there, letting them know I'm behind them 100 percent during that game," he continued.

Williams said he owed his teammates and coaches that much for the support they gave him through his trying times the past week.

UK's rushing leader — 47 carries for 343 yards and a touchdown this season — said he learned a lot about himself during the past week, and he's ready to move on and start preparing for the Cats' game against Auburn a week from Thursday.

"That was one of the longest weeks of my life, just from the standpoint of not being able to be out there with the team and go through some things that they were going through," he said. "I had some issues of my own that I had to deal with that kept me away from the game. You learn a lot from that situation."

The ordeal has reminded him how much he loves football and wants to be back out there in pads and jersey.

"I missed the game a lot," he said. "It feels good just to be able to be out there today and get back in the rhythm of things and be able to get prepared for a good game that's ahead of us."

In his only media session during the bye week, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops made it clear that he thought the off-the-field issues were behind Williams.

When asked if the running back would be available to go against the Tigers, Stoops said: "He's back out there full-go today. He's ready to go."

The head coach asked outsiders to respect the sophomore's privacy.

"Those issues that he had, that he shared with me, affected his performance, and it affected the way he acted and what he did," Stoops said.

Kentucky's running game struggled without Williams, who is averaging 7.3 yards per carry, third best in the Southeastern Conference. His 85.8 yards per game is ninth best in the league.

The Cats (4-1, 2-1 SEC) will be going up against an Auburn team that is at the bottom of the league and among the worst in the nation in yards allowed on the ground per game at 209.6.

The Tigers (3-2, 0-2) are giving up 5.2 yards per carry and have yielded 11 rushing touchdowns so far this season, most in the conference.

News and notes

Kicker Austin MacGinnis missed his first game at Kentucky while battling a groin strain. He has a bye week to heal up, but Stoops said there's always worry about an injury like that lingering in a kicker.

But he said UK's training staff feels confident that MacGinnis will be able to return for the next game.

"They did an MRI; there's nothing but a pull, and I don't think anything significant, so I would hope he would be fine by the end of this week," Stoops said.

■ As a four-year starter, Landon Foster has been a consistent regular for Kentucky since he arrived on campus, but Stoops hasn't hidden his disappointment in the senior punter at times this season.

That's why he was benched for one punt versus EKU on Saturday, the head coach said. Backup Bryan Kirshe had one punt that went for 21 yards that set up the Colonels at the Cats' 26-yard line. They turned it into a touchdown five plays later.

"We were just frustrated with Landon, you know?" Stoops explained. "I've told y'all many times leading up to that — and I told the team: Landon was put on notice, too. Every kicker, everybody on our team, if they're not playing up to their potential, then it's next man up."

Foster came back in on the next punting opportunity and went for 51 yards. "We appreciate Landon, he's a great kid, but we felt like he could punt the ball better," Stoops said.

■ Stoops updated the Cats' plans for the bye week and beyond, saying that the players got one extra day off this week with much of the prep work for Auburn coming on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Coaches will recruit on Friday and then the team will return to practice on Saturday, treating it like it's a normal game week Monday.

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