UK Football

Mark Stoops not fooled by Auburn's lackluster stats

UK head coach Mark Stoops looks at the scoreboard as he walks of the field at halftime of the University of Kentucky-EKU football game at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, October 3, 2015. Photo by Ken Weaver
UK head coach Mark Stoops looks at the scoreboard as he walks of the field at halftime of the University of Kentucky-EKU football game at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, October 3, 2015. Photo by Ken Weaver Herald-Leader

Auburn has had its share of troubles offensively this season.

The Tigers, who will face Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium on Thursday night, are better on offense than only 24 schools nationally.

Their 343.8 yards a game is 140 less than they averaged a season ago.

But don't let the statistics fool you, UK's Mark Stoops said on Monday.

The Tigers are still a dominant team, especially on the ground.

"They're tough runners," the head coach said. "They're going to be physical. This offense across the board, every year it starts with a mentality of them being physical, and their backs are good runners.

"They're very physical. Their tackles are extremely good football players on their offensive line. They're good."

And Auburn, which is fourth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing at 190 yards a game and 4.4 yards a carry, could be facing a hobbled UK defensive front. Stoops noted that senior C.J. Johnson and true freshman Jordan Jones are both injured.

Johnson, second on the team in tackles with 37 (30 have come in the past two games), rolled his right ankle in practice this week and said he will try to play, but is still day to day.

Stoops listed both as questionable, but noted that the defensive line does return starter Regie Meant, who has 11 tackles in three games this season. Getting Meant, who said he's 100 percent after a shoulder strain, back helps lessen the blow of potentially losing Johnson.

Whoever is in there, UK needs its interior linemen to have a big game, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said.

"They're a very good run team," Eliot said of Auburn, which has run the ball on 66 percent of its plays this season. "They're physical blockers. They have a lot of power on runs.

"Their offensive tackles are very good and I think it's important that we have good, solid defensive line play."

The Tigers are paced by Peyton Barber's 109 carries for 558 yards and six of Auburn's nine rushing touchdowns.

At least one UK player is excited to see how the Cats, who are 11th in the league in rushing defense (allowing 170.6 yards a game), will perform against a run-heavy offense.

"A lot of teams haven't been running it right at us, pounding like we know they're going to do," middle linebacker Josh Forrest said. "We're ready for it and we've been practicing hard for it."

League foes are averaging just 142 yards on the ground against UK so far this season, significantly lower than the 234.6 yards a game the Cats permitted in 2014.

"We've made some improvements and I'm excited to get after it on Thursday," Eliot said. "We know our challenges with that type of offense and those types of players."

The Cats' linebackers took a hit this weekend, too with Nico Firios missing the rest of the season after surgery and the injury of Jones, listed as a backup at both weakside and middle linebacker. Senior Khalid Henderson will back up both spots, Stoops said.

Wiliams 'doing great' since return

Kentucky's offense will have added Boom (Williams) on Thursday night against the Tigers.

Since missing the Eastern Kentucky game while dealing with undisclosed personal issues, the sophomore running back has been practicing well and was moved back to No. 1 on the Cats' depth chart.

"He's doing great," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said of UK's rushing leader with 47 carries for 343 yards and a score. "He's got great energy, great attitude right now.

"Obviously, we're a better team with him on the field. I think he understands that and I think we understand that. We want him to be on the field as much as possible. We're a lot better with him out there."

Without Williams, who averages 7.3 yards a carry, UK's run game struggled against the Colonels, gaining just 55 yards. He returns in time to face an Auburn team that is at the bottom of the league and among the worst in the nation in yards yielded on the ground at 209.6. The Tigers are allowing 5.2 yards a carry and have allowed 11 rushing touchdowns so far this season, most in the league.

Injury updates

Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis, who missed the Eastern Kentucky game with a strained groin, has been able to do some light kicking, Stoops confirmed on Monday.

"So we'll see where that goes," the coach said. "It's day to day."

Against the Colonels, backup kicker Miles Butler made four of five extra-point attempts and didn't attempt a field goal.

Not having MacGinnis would alter UK's offensive strategy potentially, Stoops said. "I think you've got to look at that. Maybe your range changes a little bit. But he's been consistent, the backup. Done a nice job."

Butler, a redshirt freshman, holds Paducah Tilghman records for most points in school history (212) and longest field goal (49 yards) as well as most field goals made in a season (13) and career (26).

UK will get back starting left tackle Jordan Swindle, who injured his groin and missed most of the last two games.

Another late one for Cats

Kentucky's game at Mississippi State will be played at 7:30 p.m. and televised on the SEC Network, the league office announced on Monday. It will be the seventh consecutive night game of the season for the Cats, including the 7 p.m. start on Thursday versus Auburn.

It could end up being eight straight night starts for UK since the league likely is to grant the school's request to make the Tennessee game a late game on Oct. 31 so as to not interfere with the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland.

The rest of the schedule is at Georgia, at Vanderbilt, then home games against Charlotte and Louisville.

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