By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — After Kentucky beat Central Michigan 27-13 Saturday, UK sophomore tailback Raymond Sanders was all smiles as he talked about his team’s improved running game and how freshman Josh Clemons’ 87-yard touchdown run had even inspired him.
What he didn’t mention was that he apparently had hurt his knee in the first half, but Thursday he needed arthroscopic surgery to repair a slight cartilage tear in his right knee. He had a similar surgery on his left knee during the summer that had limited his practice time, but UK¿coach Joker Phillips said recovery time will not be out as long this time because there was no bone bruise.
“Raymond had surgery this morning and should be back in two to three weeks,” Phillips said. “The surgery went well this morning. He will miss this game (Saturday against Louisville) and should only be out two to three weeks.”
Sanders has rushed for 97 yards on 21 carries in UK’s two games and has one reception. He has played in 14 career games and started three. Phillips said Clemons, who has 165 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, will start in Sanders’ spot. That likely will elevate CoShik Williams to No. 2 with either sophomore Jonathan George, redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer or true freshman Marcus Caffey next on the depth chart.
“The game keeps moving,” Phillips said. “The game doesn’t stop … We have to keep the game moving and Raymond understands that and our football team understands that. Now, another back has to step up. You have to take advantage of the opportunity, and that is what we have been talking about is taking advantage of opportunity. We will give them an opportunity and see how they do.
“Josh will start and it will give us an opportunity to get to see the other backs. We have been wanting to get them in the game and now we have to get them in the game.”
The Wildcats are confident that Clemons, who will be playing in only his third game, will be fine as UK’s featured back against Louisville.
“He is a special player and the thing is that may not have been the cleanest blocked play of the day (when he went 87 yards against Central Michigan) and he was able to clean it up for us and get himself a big run,” UK senior guard Stuart Hines said Wednesday (players are not available to the media after Wednesday until after the game). “We feel like any of our running backs are capable of that. Our job is to open the holes and let them run.
“But I think it was a little bit of a mental boost when he made that big run. I think seeing Josh make that big run made Raymond want to run harder and got Josh pumped up wanting to bust another one. I definitely think it gave us a little fuel and helped them both. But there’s no doubt Josh can play. It is obvious that he has big play ability and we are going to keep going to our running backs, especially after Josh busted one like we kept telling him he was going to do.”
Hines knows doing that against Louisville, which is giving up just 90 yards rushing per game and only 2.5 yards per run attempt, will be difficult.
“I know they have a great defense and will bring a lot of pressure on us Saturday,” Hines said. “There are some things that make it tough on our offense and they have a great defensive front that returned a lot of people. It will be the biggest challenge for us yet to show that our offensive line can control the game.
“We all enjoy playing at Commonwealth Stadium more than at Louisville. We have our home fans to help us, and we will need them to get the job done against a good defense.”
Kentucky could get some help from the return of junior center Matt Smith, a starter last year who has missed the first two games because of an ankle injury. He will not start — senior Jake Lanefski retains that spot — but Phillips says he will play.
Offensive tackle Billy Joe Murphy (knee) will miss his second straight game. True freshman Darrian Miller will get his second start, but Lanefski could also play there if Smith is able to go at center.
“It helps with a group of guys if you can get a feel for how they play as one unit,” Hines said. “I think it is a little bit of an issue when you are not practicing together every day.
“The only good thing is that we are a deeper team now. Kevin Mitchell got to play all fall camp when I was out. Darrian Miller stepped in for Chandler Burden when he missed a little time and stepped in for Billy Joe Murphy when he couldn’t play last Saturday. They have both done a great job. We have developed guys that will be great players for us and now it could start paying off along with hopefully getting Matt back Saturday.”