UK Football

Kentucky's Sanders aching to turn big chances into big plays

Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders (4) followed the blocking from tight end Ronnie Shields (80) at Mississippi State. Sanders leads UK in rushing with 341 yards on 67 carries.
Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders (4) followed the blocking from tight end Ronnie Shields (80) at Mississippi State. Sanders leads UK in rushing with 341 yards on 67 carries. AP

Raymond Sanders has lost track of the number of times he's replayed the play.

"I've watched it on my phone a bunch of times," Sanders said.

It was fourth-and-one, and Kentucky had just crossed midfield into Mississippi State territory last Thursday night. Sanders needed a single, solitary yard.

He could see the end zone. The Kentucky senior running back needed one yard. He got six, but he knows he could have and should have gotten all 49.

With less than two minutes to go, his run could've been the game-winner. Instead, Kentucky lost again.

The play replays in his mind like a bad home movie.

"That was the play I felt like could've helped, definitely felt like I should've broke that tackle and helped the team win that game," Sanders said Wednesday.

In case he's forgotten the play, UK running backs coach Chad Scott has been discussing it with Sanders non-stop in film study and on the practice field this week leading up to the Cats' Saturday night game against Alabama State at Commonwealth Stadium.

"He's been in my ear and I'm glad he's in my ear because I need to get better, I need to make that play for that team," Sanders said.

As he replays it in his head, on his phone, in film study, Sanders now sees that he shouldn't have put his head down. It meant he didn't have time to see and react to Kendrick Market, who brought down Sanders.

"He's got to do a better job of making people miss and breaking some tackles," Scott said of Sanders, who leads the team in rushing with 341 yards on 67 carries with two touchdowns. "There's a lot more yards out there on the field to be had and he understands that. He knows that."

Instead of beating himself up, Sanders hopes to take out his frustrations on Alabama State this weekend. The Hornets, a Football Championship Subdivision team that has never faced a Southeastern Conference foe, have been stingy in run defense this season, allowing opponents only 109.8 yards a game.

That would put them in the top 20 nationally if they were in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

"I'm coming out in practice this week with a chip on my shoulder," Sanders said. "I'm practicing well. Other guys around me are practicing well. We're challenging each other."

His head coach said Sanders, who already ranks in the top 20 all-time in rushing at Kentucky, is a guy playing with heart.

He's playing like he has just five career games left, which is likely.

But Coach Mark Stoops believes Sanders and true freshman running back Jojo Kemp can do more.

"I think he's running harder," Stoops said of Sanders. "Him and Jojo both, they need to make somebody miss. I thought we had a chance to win the game on fourth-and-one, we pop it, we're one– on– one with a difficult tackle, and we get down.

"We've got to start winning some one– on– one situations, as well. But I do think Raymond is playing very hard. We've just got to make somebody miss. There's a lot of yards we're leaving out there."

Quarterback updates

Kentucky's coaches offered some clarification about their quarterback plan moving forward this week. Despite being banged up, sophomore Jalen Whitlow is expected to start against Alabama State.

"It would be really nice to have him start a game and finish a game unless we decide to take him out for good reasons," Stoops said of Whitlow, who sprained his ankle versus Alabama on Oct. 12 and also hurt his non-throwing shoulder last week at Mississippi State.

Whitlow has gotten all of the first-team reps in practice this week. Maxwell Smith and true freshman Reese Phillips are equally splitting the second-team reps, offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.

Whitlow said his shoulder is sore, and trainers told him to expect it to be the rest of the season, but he will play through it. "You really don't think about it. You just try to do your job."

Smith is still listed as No. 2 on the depth chart, and the coaches said it's hard to imagine a scenario where Phillips would get in the game, but he's an option if Whitlow is injured.

"We'd like to keep the redshirt on him this late, but I think we're mentally getting him ready and we're getting him enough reps where if he needs to play, he'll be ready," Brown said.

Alabama State at Kentucky

When: 7:30 p.m.

Records: Alabama State 6-2, Kentucky 1-6

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