LEXINGTON, Ky. — How is Kentucky faring without Benny Snell?
Through the first three games, the Wildcats rank No. 6 in the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense, averaging 185 yards per game. Most of that success can be attributed to an experienced offensive line.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was pleased with the team’s running attack in a 29-21 loss to Florida. Kavosiey Smoke collected a big chunk of that yardage with 81 yards on 16 carries against the Gators. Smoke’s rushing attempts were a career-high.
“(We were) very physical in the run game, hold a team like Florida to one sack,” Stoops said. “That was on a missed assignment, as well. Tackle slid the wrong way. But those guys have been so good in making so many difficult calls, the right calls, doing the right things. They've been very, very efficient.”
Stoops has been pleased with the play of Smoke, who leads the team in rushing with 251 yards and two touchdowns. Teammate A.J. Rose has collected 192 yards and has also crossed the goal line twice.
“He's doing some really good things, making good cuts, good strong runs, breaking tackles, some good things,” Stoops said of Smoke.
On film, Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead came away impressed with Rose and Smoke and added both runners have the benefit of playing behind a solid offensive front.
“Asim Rose has good vision and is a long strider, more a linear or a one-cut guy, more of an I-Back,” he said earlier this week. Then, Kavosiey Smoke, you saw him in the Florida game, a really explosive, quick [runner] with a little bit better change of direction. Those two guys really compliment each other very well and, quite frankly, run behind a very big, physical and aggressive offensive line.”
Stoops said the team’s running backs are “interchangeable” and the carries are based on certain game situations.
“It can change — it's not to say that it won’t. A lot of times it's just by series, who's in there,” he said. “Sometimes based on carries is how we're doing on that particular drive.”
Chris Rodriguez has managed just five carries this season for 34 yards but has two fumbles, including one at the goal line that has played a role in his lack of carries during the past two games.
“We do have confidence in Chris, need to get him back in there. That was part of it,” Stoops said. “The other part of it was A.J. (Rose) and Kavosiey (Smoke) doing some really good things. But, yeah, you can't miss out on opportunities and put the ball on the ground.”
Stoops hasn’t given up on Rodriguez and added that, “he'll get back out there.”
“We have faith in him and confidence (and) we can use him,” Stoops said. “He is different than the other two. He's young, as well, a little bit inexperienced. It's hard to say what would happen with certain runs, with certain guys in critical moments. He'll get back in the fold.”
Moorhead recruited Lynn Bowden while he was at Penn State and added that he also will be hard to stop.
“He is just a multi-facet guy — get him the ball in the passing game, get him the ball on speed sweeps and plays a little bit of wildcat quarterback,” he said. “Obviously, in the return game, as well, so he is very dangerous in space. … He is a very electric player and one of the top playmakers in the SEC.”
Gametracker: Kentucky at Mississippi State, 4 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.