Shawn Watson and Charlie Strong have made it known that running the football is important for our offense to succeed. As much as i hate to admit it, they're 100% correct. Being able to run the ball impacts the defense in a way that nothing else does. If you can force the defense to bring an extra defender in the box, it opens up the passing game for big plays. Kentucky struggled mightily running the ball in last year's game and it kept their offense from reaching it's potential. Many forget that UK moved the ball pretty well through the air. Add a decent running game and the score could have been very different.
Kentucky has six running backs looking to win the race for the starting spot this year. Josh Clemons was the presumed starter up until Joker announced that he was "doubtful" for the game next week due to swelling in his surgically-repaired knee. Raymond Sanders and CoShik Williams have the most experience and are very similar in size and style. Jonathan George, Justin Taylor, and Dyshawn Mobely are all bigger backs that can wear down a defense.
Josh Clemons got a lot of hype last year after he had solid performances in Kentucky's first two games last year. An 87-yard touchdown run will always garner a lot of respect. Clemons will more than likely not play next week after having his Knee scoped. Clemons deserved praise for his fast start last year, but if you take away the big run he had against Central Michigan, he only averaged three yards a carry. I don't see it as a big loss with him out.
CoShik Williams will more than likely get the majority of the carries to start the season. Williams is a "scat-back" in the Victor Anderson mold. He's not going to outrun everyone but if you find yourself in the open field with him you better hope your ankles were taped well. Despite his small stature he runs pretty well behind his pads. With improved line play Williams could put up good numbers for UK and can take some pressure off of Max Smith. Williams is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield. With the pressure we bring, having a safety valve that can make plays in the open field is a huge plus.
Jonathan George had a solid year as a backup last year. If Joker decides to use two backs George is most likely to be the "power" back that he goes with. George was the back that was saddled with the "sleeper" title coming into last season and after Clemons injured his knee he played pretty well. Joker has seemed to favor smaller running backs since he took over the offense at Kentucky so I'm not sure if he will give George much time to shine. The much smaller Williams even received goal line carries last year. If George gets the chance to get some carries, look for a guy that has surprising speed and good size.
Dyshawn Mobely passes the "eye" test for sure. He's built more like a fullback but has a lot of UK people excited coming out of camp. He had a very productive high school career and might add a new dimension to UK's offense. We will have to wait and see how the other guys factor in to UK's plans this year.
Louisville's defense was one of the best in the country against the run last year. Three of the four defensive lineman that started last year in Lexington and the leading tackler for UofL are all gone. The depth Louisville has on the defensive side of the ball will be on full display next week. B.J. Dubose, Marcus Smith, Roy Philon, and Brandon Dunn all logged major minutes last year and will be able to step in and not miss a beat. Even guys like Jamaine Brooks and Lorenzo Mauldin played in the UK game last year and will only see more time this year.
We will find out how much of an impact the loss of Dexter Heyman will be within the first two drives of the game. UK will have to try to establish the running game early to help take pressure off of Max Smith. Heyman had a nack for shooting gaps and making plays behind the line of scrimmage. With the way that Louisville blitzes it's safeties and linebackers, Preston Brown has an opportunity to really take his game to the next level at the middle linebacker spot. Keith Brown is a player that a lot of us are looking forward to seeing this year. I'm not sure if he will get a ton of playing time though. Vance Bedford ran the 3-3-5 defense a lot last year and depending on how Joker chooses to attack the defense, we could see it a lot this year also.The linebackers really need to do a good job stifling the run game. A one dimensional offense is always easier to defend. Also, being able to keep Hakeem Smith in coverage while also stopping the run will shrink the playbook for Joker and his offensive staff.
If UK can establish their run game it puts Bedford in a position where he has to tailor the defense to what the offense is doing. That's the goal of every coordinator. I think that Kentucky's line play will be improved this year and it could help get the running game going. If the run game isn't better this year, you will see an improved Louisville defense pin it's ears back and get after Max Smith all day. Kentucky couldn't get 100 yards a game out of it's running backs last season and with no newcomers and a less experienced offensive line, I don't see that changing this year.