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UK Football: Previewing the Horses in the Backfield

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In our ongoing position preview series we breakdown the guys behind the QB

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The job of a running back may seem very simple; absorb the handoff in your gut from the QB, do not drop it, then avoid the tacklers to go as far as possible. Rinse and repeat.  From a purely positional silo standpoint, you can make a great living doing just that.

However, in today's game of complex offenses there is so much more involved.  A good running back has to be able to hold onto the ball and avoid defenders to even sniff the field, and they also need to do many other things to STAY on the field and help make a team successful.

One aspect of a good team running back is the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, especially in the Air Raid offense.  The RB position is usually going up against a linebacker in coverage, at the very least one of the 3rd or 4th best coverage guys on the other team.  Being able to beat that man by running great routes and then completing the catch is a tremendous weapon for an offense.

A good running back has to be able to block as well, in today's norm of defensive stunts, twists and creative blitzing, it is more important than ever for a RB to be able to read the action and pick up an unabated pass rusher, or a D-Lineman who has slipped past the line.

EVOLUTION OF THE UNIT

There was a time in football where the #2 running back was a true backup.  He would come in for injury, or give the #1 guy a breather.  The #3 running back was a guy who probably hung out with the backup punter.

Over time, this has turned into a unit (backfield) vs. just a player.  Very few teams use one feature back and give them 95% of the carries in today's game.  This began with a popular term of having one elusive runner for mid to long yardage run situations and another "change of pace" runner for short yardage and goal line situations.

This evolved into having full-on committee backfields with two "feature" guys sharing the load and getting a 40/40 split with a third guy getting the other 20%, maybe not in those exact percentages, but some variation of it.

You do not have to look very far to see this in college football either, just look at Alabama.  Mark Ingram lost many carries to Trent Richardson.  Richardson then lost carries to Eddie Lacy, Lacy lost carries to T.J. Yeldon, and finally Yeldon lost carries to current #1 at Alabama Derrick Henry.

The importance of having TWO very good running backs and a third one that can add value is now necessary in the SEC.

DEPTH CHART DISCUSSION

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depthchartRBs

Much like the offensive line preview I did with Will Marshall and Zipp Duncan, one of the first things you notice is youth.  Two sophomores, one junior, and one freshman each make for a bright future.  From left to right is the current depth chart for the running backs.

Aside from Horton moving to the backup slot (which, I think will happen and will discuss later), you will likely not see Boom or King moving anywhere else on the depth chart.

STANLEY "BOOM" WILLIAMS

Boom Williams burst onto the scene in 2014 and seized the feature back position by the end of the season.  To begin 2014, Boom was likely the 5th running back behind JoJo Kemp, Braylon Heard, Josh Clemons, and Mikel Horton.

None of the four took advantage of the opportunity to be the feature back and with each carry and explosive play that Boom made; he inched closer to that role.

Williams would end the season with 486 yards on just 74 carries for the season.  Some quick math will tell you that is a video game-esque 6.6 yards per carry... in the SEC... as a true freshman.  Just for fun, I want to extrapolate those numbers.

Moe Williams UK Career

  • 3,333 Career yards rushing
  • 618 attempts
  • 27 Touchdowns

Boom Williams (based on his freshman production going forward)

  • 4,078 Career yards
  • 618 attempts
  • 41 Touchdowns

Boom is a year older, a year stronger, and a year better.  Look for him to have a breakout season and establish himself as not only UK's premier running back, but also one of the best in the SEC.

JOJO KEMP

Kemp converted a strong end of his freshman season into being one of the feature backs for his sophomore year.  Kemp unfortunately was overtaken by Williams and Heard and got lost in the shuffle a little bit.

Of the four running backs last season, Kemp got the second most carries but had the lowest per yard average of the four.  I do think a lot of that was due to Neal Brown force-feeding the wildcat formation long after it had run its course of effectiveness.

Kemp said there were many people around him telling him he should transfer this season.  Kemp decided he was not going to give up so easily and by all accounts he has rededicated himself to competing for carries and is having a great camp thus far.

It is impossible to discuss JoJo Kemp without discussing the South Carolina win.

Regardless of what Kemp does during his time at UK, he will always be known in Kentucky lore as a hero on that Saturday night who sent the Ole Ball Coach back home with his tail tucked between his legs.

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MIKEL HORTON

Horton is a sophomore who had a solid freshman season.  He played in all 12 games and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.  Once the final horn went off last season, Mikel Horton decided to get better.  Horton came to UK carrying 245 pounds and 14% body fat.

He knew that he could not reach his lofty goal of "being a starter, being the man, being the face of the program."  Therefore, he gave up bread and got on a bike for conditioning.  During this fall camp, Horton is down to 8% body fat and 226 pounds.

He is faster, stronger, and poised for a big season...  I personally think that Horton will end up usurping Kemp for the #2 back.  Horton has SEC size and speed, being in an offense that will spread the defenses we face, I think he will take advantage of the soft spots and be a HUGE factor for UK this season

SIHIEM (Cy-heem) KING

King is possibly a diamond in the rough, if you look at his offer list; he had A LOT of schools that wanted him, but none of the power schools.  King had a MONSTER senior season too, he ran for 2,090 yards and 37 touchdowns in 15 games.

King had offers from Cincinnati, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and West Virginia among several others.  He chose the ‘Cats because of Shannon Dawson and the chance to play in the SEC.  Dawson recruited him heavily at West Virginia and once the SEC element was in play, it was an easy decision for him.

King is in a crowded backfield at Kentucky, but if you recall, so was Boom Williams so you never know.

OUTLOOK

I think last season's unit suffered from a couple of things; the offensive line was very young and not cohesive, there was also no one runner that was a feature back.

I think the line problem is an obvious reason for the struggles.  However, the reason I think not having a defined back last season hurt because it was a week-to-week tryout for each guy to see who stepped up.  Having a clear hierarchy this season is going to prove very valuable, as will the development and progression of the line.

The backfield unit will be one of strength for the 'Cats, with Boom Williams introducing himself to America and Mikel Horton taking an exponential step forward.