UK Football

Splitting carries isn't paying off for team or running backs, Kentucky coaches say

Stanley "Boom" Williams, left, Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton impressed running backs coach Chad Scott in camp, but splitting carrying duties among all of UK's running backs has not worked out the way the UK staff expected.
Stanley "Boom" Williams, left, Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton impressed running backs coach Chad Scott in camp, but splitting carrying duties among all of UK's running backs has not worked out the way the UK staff expected. Jonathan Palmer

Could fewer workers equal more production?

Kentucky's offensive coaches are starting to think so.

After watching the system of split repetitions among four running backs not pay enough dividends during the past few games, UK's staff might be looking to run the ball more but use fewer players.

"We're trying to play, trying to give too many guys carries, so I think we've got to slim that down," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.

Trying to rotate in Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp, Stanley "Boom" Williams and Mikel Horton hasn't worked the way the coaches had hoped.

Splitting the carries — coupled with a decrease in runs against stout run defenses — has hurt the players' individual rhythm.

"It's tough when you try to rotate so many guys," running backs coach Chad Scott said Tuesday. "We've talked about that this week. We're doing some things to get that fixed and try to get that going a little bit better."

Brown said the running back position was a lot like a shooter in basketball.

"You can't just go out there and give a shooter a couple shots," Brown said. "You've got to get him open, and we've got to do the same thing. We've got to feed the running backs and get them in a rhythm."

UK's offensive coordinator took his share of the blame, noting he called for only nine runs for a true running back in the Mississippi State loss. Of those nine runs, two ended in fumbles by Heard and Horton.

So the most important thing will be to get whoever is the main guy more involved in the overall game plan.

"We got in the game where Patrick (Towles) started running the ball and we weren't blocking things real clean, so when you run the quarterback you get an extra hat," Brown said. "So, I've got to give them more opportunities."

But there are some things they need to do once they get those opportunities, their coaches said.

Take out quarterback runs and runs by Williams, and the other running backs have combined for just 34 carries for 93 yards (an average of 2.7 yards per carry) during the past three games. Two of those games were against strong run defense teams, but Brown said he needed to be more creative at getting the running backs the ball in space.

They need to do their part, too, he said.

"We've got to be able to get some tough yards, we've got to run through some contact," Brown said minutes after the loss to Mississippi State, which featured running back Josh Robinson, who ran the ball 23 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

Robinson made people miss and was able to keep running even after that initial hit, Brown said.

"If you look at him, he runs hard; he runs through arm tackles," Brown noted. "We've got to get to a point where we are doing that."

It's not clear which running back will get the increased carries during the next few weeks, with Brown saying that would be decided in practice and based on past performance.

"We've got quite a bit of game film now that we can go on," he said.

The burst of speed and power they get from Williams won't change, so he will be a big part of the offensive plan, UK's coaches have said.

"He has big-play ability, and having him back is a big boost even for the other guys," Scott said. "It's like it gives those guys a boost of confidence."

After that, it seems the player who fights for the yards will be the guy who gets the carries going forward.

In SEC play, Kemp is faring the best with 40 carries for 231 yards (5.8 yards a carry) and three touchdowns, all in the Wildcat package. Heard averages 4.5 yards a carry in SEC play (41 runs for 185 yards and a touchdown), and Horton is at 5.2 yards a carry against SEC foes with 20 carries for 104 yards.

Coach Mark Stoops doesn't think his running backs are that far off. Like the rest of Kentucky's team, they are a work in progress.

"We're still trying to be the team that we want to be; we're not there yet," he said of UK's rushing attack, which is 10th in the league, averaging 159.9 yards a game. That number drops to 135.4 yards a game against SEC opposition.

"We want to be a team that has balance," Stoops said. "You have to be able to run the ball some, and so there are some very good teams the last couple of weeks up front, and, you know, it's not like we're completely inept."

Not at all, Scott said.

The coaches just need to figure out who the best option is, then get that player some carries and confidence.

"It's just a matter of knowing they can do it, being consistent doing it, and they have to get off to a faster start," Scott said. "That's the biggest thing, starting off slow and keeping their confidence."

He has all the confidence that UK's running backs can compete with the best.

"Talent wise, they're still one of the most talented backfields in the SEC, ability wise," he said. "They just have to be consistent."

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