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September 10, 2012Kentucky's running backs continue to run under the radar, and as long as the Wildcats win, that isn't a problem.
Senior wide receiver Aaron Boyd and sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith will receive most of the credit for UK's 47-14 win over Kent State last Saturday, but a committee of running backs fueled the ground game for the Cats.
UK rushed for a season-high 185 yards, even without starting tailback CoShik Williams.
More importantly, UK didn't fumble the football, a change from a week-one loss at Louisville in which the Cats coughed up the ball twice.
"We felt like it hurt us last week," junior running back Raymond Sanders said. "We left points on the field with those turnovers, so we wanted to make sure we held onto the ball, got the ball back to the ref. When we do that, we feel like we can get the ball in the end zone."
UK running backs didn't have a problem getting in the end zone Saturday. Sanders broke off a 67-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and junior Jonathan George scurried for a 38-yard touchdown late in the third quarter, pushing UK ahead 33-14.
Williams missed the game with back spasms, but the Cats are confident in their depth.
"It helps out with our confidence and knowing we can (all) run the ball," Sanders said. "We have three of four guys that can roll in and be productive."
UK's effective rushing game can be linked to the new and improved aerial attack. The Cats rushed and passed for more than 150 yards in a game for the first time since defeating Vanderbilt 38-20 in November of 2010.
"It helps because we aren't one-dimensional," Sanders said. "Maxwell Smith) is playing great; he's able to get us in the checks and move the line and everything. It just helps the offense as a whole for him to be playing this well."
Sanders' touchdown came in the second quarter on a halfback sweep to the right side. He went 52 yards before being touched and dove into the end zone, giving UK a 14-7 lead, its first of the game.
Sanders' 115-yard performance was a career high and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said the biggest difference with Sanders and the rest of the offense is maturity.
"Last year we were so young in some positions and some of the older guys were injured and we just kind of got in a funk ," Randy Sanders said. "Right now our guys are playing with a lot of confidence, they are playing aggressively and they are playing to win."
No player is more confident than Smith. As he continues to be one of the top quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference, he has his running game to thank.
Smith said last season when the Cats would get behind they would abandon the running game; this year he realizes the importance of handing off the ball.
"It's huge," Smith said. "Everybody needs a running game. It's even tough for Peyton Manning, if he doesn't have a running game, to go out there and throw for a lot of yards. Running game is really everything."
One downside to the running game against Kent State was being stopped at the goal line four consecutive plays. Freshman Dyshawn Mobley was stopped short from the one-yard line on third and fourth down.
UK's defense was able to force a safety, but head coach Joker Phillips said Mobley could have found the end zone.
Phillips said Mobley tried to cut back when the run was designed to go right up the middle.
"You can't do that at this level," Phillips said. "If he stayed front side maybe it would have been a different story."
On Monday, Phillips corrected himself and said a blocking failure resulted in Mobley being stopped.
But that was one blemish in an otherwise impressive running attack.
"I thought we ran the ball really well (against Louisville), we just had to get away from it, the way the game went," Randy Sanders said. "I've been pleased with the way the line has blocked. I've been pleased with the way the backs have run. It's nice to go through a game with no turnovers. That's the way we need to play."