Kentucky Football: Could This Be the Best Rushing Team in Recent History?
We are now less than a month away from our beloved Kentucky Wildcats' season opening game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. I recently completed a two-part series of articles previewing the Wildcats' offense, defense and special teams for the upcoming 2011 season.
The Wildcats held their first official summer scrimmage, behind closed doors unfortunately, but there are nothing but good things coming out of coaches' mouths, inside sources and fans alike.
Basically, everyone had the same observation in their assessment of the game: the overall abundance of talent, speed and depth of the running backs.
One question is particularly intriguing to me though. Could this be one of the best rushing teams in the SEC and even in recent Kentucky memory?
We all know that it takes more than the running backs themselves to make yardage on the ground. Any team's rushing attack relies heavily on the offensive line.
The Wildcats return one of the most experienced and overall talented offensive lines in the SEC. Senior tackles Chandler Burden and Billy Joe Murphy have appeared in a combined 64 games and have 23 starts between the two.
Senior guard Stuart Hines is a two-year starter and played in every game during his freshman year as a backup. At the other guard position is the most impressive offensive lineman in recent Kentucky memory, junior Larry Warford. Warford, made SEC All-Freshman team in 2009, All-SEC second team and Sophomore All-America second team last season.
Snapping the ball is returning junior starter Matt Smith. He has played in 19 games, including 13 starts in his first two seasons at Kentucky.
The Wildcats have plenty of talent and experience to open holes for the plethora of young running backs that the Wildcats have at their disposal.
The season-opening starter in the backfield, barring unforeseen circumstances, is sophomore Raymond Sanders. Last season, in a backup role to the speedy Derrick Locke, Sanders ran for 254 yards and three touchdowns. Also, he played well in the Wildcats' high octane passing attack last season catching 16 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
Sure, one could say that these aren't particularly impressive numbers, but you have to realize the limited playing time he received behind All-SEC Derrick Locke.
Have I mentioned he has gained an extra 15 pounds of muscle and has been wowing coaches and fans alike in summer camp?
Also fighting for the starting spot is sophomore Johnathan George and heralded freshman Josh Clemons. George very sparingly saw the ball last season, being down the depth chart as a freshman behind Locke and Raymond Sanders. But when he did carry the ball, he showed an abundant amount of potential.
Freshman Josh Clemons is possibly the most hyped and talked about freshman player on the roster. Clemons was one of the top running backs in the state of Georgia last season, along with top Georgia recruit Isiah Crowell. He has also amazed coaches and fans with his uncanny ability with the ball. I would not be surprised if he jumped both Sanders and George to become the starter as a true freshman.
Rounding out the depth chart for the Wildcats is freshman Marcus Caffey, junior walk-on CoShik Williams and redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer.
As you can see, the Wildcats are not without talent and depth in the backfield and they are definitely not without a top offensive line.
The only thing the Wildcats lack in the backfield is experience, but that goes without saying looking at the ages on the running back depth chart.
I have no doubt in my mind that this season's Kentucky football team can have one of the top rushing attacks in the SEC and one of the best in recent school memory.
But one question remains: Can the young running backs overcome the lack of experience and take advantage of one of the SEC's top offensive lines?
Not too long from now, we will all find out as the season kicks off.
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