SEC: Raymond Sanders

One of the last memories Braylon Heard had of his time at Nebraska was a 9-yard touchdown run in the 2012 Big Ten championship game. He took the handoff, sprinted to the opposite side of the field and left the defense in the dust as he waltzed into the end zone.

It was a play that likely won’t register with Cornhuskers fans as their team trailed Wisconsin 63-17 at the time, but it’s a play that will stay with Heard because not only did he score, but it also turned out to be one of his final carries in a Nebraska uniform.

[+] EnlargeBraylon Heard
AP Photo/Dave WeaverFormer Nebraska running back Braylon Heard is hoping for a fresh start -- and a starting spot -- at Kentucky.
Heard rushed for 462 yards and four touchdowns during his first two seasons in Lincoln. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry as a sophomore, but he found himself stuck behind Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah on the depth chart. He believed it was in his best interest to transfer, as he needed a fresh start.

At the same time Heard was trying to rejuvenate his career, first-year head coach Mark Stoops was looking to rejuvenate a Kentucky football program that had just two conference victories in 2011. It was the perfect match.

“At Kentucky, I just saw a great opportunity, and it was closer to home,” Heard said.

The Youngstown, Ohio, native played his high school ball at Cardinal Mooney, the same school that Stoops and fellow Kentucky assistant coach Vince Marrow attended back in the day. At Kentucky, he's close enough to home that his mother can drive to games instead of flying.

The only downside to the transfer was that Heard had to sit out a full season before he could suit up in a game for the Wildcats.

“It wasn't too bad because I knew the next year I would be out there with the guys,” he said. “Any guy sitting out is a little frustrated watching the games and everything, but you've got to keep a level head and know that your time will come next year.”

Heard did keep a level head. He was still able to practice with the team. He took reps with the scout team and worked hard on improving his own game. He impressed the coaches with his progression and showed that he could be a big-time back once he became eligible.

“He took as much advantage of a redshirt year as anybody I've seen,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “He was a little stiff in his hips and in his movements, and he went to work and did a great job with our strength and conditioning guys, became more flexible and looks a whole lot different than he did when he was at Nebraska.”

Heard is no longer just a speed back. He can run it inside just as well as he can run it outside. He’s improved his pass-catching abilities and his pass protection, and he’s a guy the coaches believe can do everything they’re going to ask their running backs to do.

As the team looks to replace starter Raymond Sanders this spring, Heard is very much in the mix to win the job once the season rolls around.

“He knows it's real now,” Brown said. “He knows that he's competing for a starting job. He knows that what he does every day at practice will determine how many times he carries the ball. There's maybe a little more at stake.”

The other competitors include JoJo Kemp, the team’s leading rusher from last fall; Mikel Horton, a power back who arrived in January; and Josh Clemons, who is finally healthy after missing the past two seasons because of injury.

“They're great guys,” Heard said. “We're all working hard as a group. There are a lot of characters in the room, and I've really enjoyed competing with those guys.”

The Kentucky spring game is Saturday, and ultimately, Heard wants to win the job. It’s why he transferred from Nebraska in the first place. He doesn’t want to get buried on the depth chart again. But whether he’s starting or next in line, he still just wants to do his part to help the team win.

“[My goal is] to be successful and just help out the team as much as I can,” he said. “If we're winning, then I'm happy.”

Season report card: Kentucky

January, 30, 2014
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The first year under Mark Stoops was a rough one for the Wildcats, who didn't have much to celebrate in 2013:

OFFENSE: F

[+] EnlargeAlabama Defense
AP Photo/Garry JonesThings were never easy for Jalen Whitlow and the Kentucky offense this season.
With quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow switching in and out for most of the year, there was never really much rhythm with Kentucky's offense. The Wildcats ranked in the bottom half of the SEC in total offense (341.3), scoring (20.5), passing (193.4) and rushing (147.9). Running backs Jojo Kemp and Raymond Sanders both rushed for more than 400 yards, but failed to rush for more than 42 yards per game. The Wildcats scored 30-plus points just twice in 2013.

DEFENSE: F

Stoops prides himself on being a defensive mind, but like offense, the Wildcats ranked in the bottom half of the league in all major defensive categories, including ranking 13th in scoring (31.2) and total defense (427.2). Kentucky surrendered 36.4 points per game in conference play. Kentucky was also last in the league on third downs, allowing opponents to convert 44.7 percent of the time. Defensive linemen Alvin Dupree and Za’Darius Smith combined for 13 sacks, while linebacker Avery Williamson ranked sixth in the league with 102 tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-

Kicker Joe Mansour was Kentucky's leading scoring, connecting on 12 of 14 (85.7) field goals and 28 of 30 extra points, while punter Landon Foster averaged 41.3 yards per punt, had a long of 59 yards, sent seven 50-plus yards and downed 15 inside the 20-yard line. Kentucky ranked within the top half of the league against punt and kick returns, while Demarco Robinson ranked third in the league on punt returns (12.7 yards per return).

OVERALL: D-

Stoops certainly wasn't thrilled with the fact that he went 2-10 on the season and 0-8 in conference play, but his team didn't quit. At the end of the day, Stoops was working from behind in his first year in ever aspect. There were no true playmakers on offense, and the defense had holes at linebacker and in the secondary. It didn't help that there was so much inconsistency at quarterback, but the hope is that Stoops' current recruiting class helps both sides of the ball. Considering the circumstances, it's tough to give a first-year coach like Stoops a failing grade for all the adversity this program faced in his first year.

Past grades:

Kentucky's leading rusher suspended

November, 25, 2013
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Kentucky's leading rusher, Raymond Sanders, is suspended for Saturday's season finale against Tennessee for violating a team rule, according to Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.

Stoops said he is "disappointed in a few decisions" that Sanders made and noted that Sanders is not off the team, but will not play on Saturday. The senior from Stone Mountain, Ga., leads the Wildcats with 464 rushing yards and three touchdowns this season. He also has 19 receptions for 135 yards for the 2-9 Wildcats, who are 0-7 in SEC play.

Whether Sanders will be allowed to participate in senior day activities this weekend will be determined on Tuesday by Stoops. Kentucky had a handful of suspensions for its most recent game, a 59-17 loss to Georgia. Freshman defensive end Jason Hatcher and sophomore cornerback Cody Quinn served one-game suspensions and junior wide receiver Demarco Robinson is suspended indefinitely.

Robinson will miss Saturday's game also but can return next season, Stoops said, if he "meets some requirements we put on him."

As for Sanders, Stoops said that he's a "good person," and that this does not change his opinion of Sanders. The Wildcats next-leading rusher is freshman Jojo Kemp who has 95 carries for 460 yards and three touchdowns on the season as well as seven catches for 73 yards.

Read the full story here.

Kentucky season preview

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
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Today, our SEC preview shifts to the Kentucky Wildcats.

Coach: Mark Stoops (0-0)

2012 record: 2-10, 0-8 SEC

[+] EnlargeMark Stoops
University of Kentucky AthleticsMark Stoops will be looking to develop some players in his first season at Kentucky.
Key losses: RB CoShik Williams, WR La’Rod King, OG Larry Warford, C Matt Smith, DE Collins Ukwu, DE Taylor Wyndham, S Martavius Neloms, S Mikie Benton

Key returnees: QB Jalen Whitlow, QB Maxwell Smith, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Dyshawn Mobley, DT Mister Cobble, DT Donte Rumph, DE Alvin Dupree, LB Avery Williamson

Newcomer to watch: Junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith had a great spring and summer and should be able to make an immediate impact at defensive end this fall.

Biggest games in 2013: Western Kentucky (in Nashville), Aug. 31; Louisville, Sept. 14; Florida, Sept. 28; Missouri, Nov. 9; at Vanderbilt, Nov. 16; Tennessee, Nov. 30

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Wildcats might have three quarterbacks competing for the starting job, but figuring out who will catch passes from any of them is still a mystery. There is a lot of potential at receiver, but there isn't any real production or consistency coming back. Junior Demarco Robinson and sophomore Daryl Collins were expected to break out in 2012, but combined for just 45 catches and 468 yards with no touchdowns. Highly recruited freshman Ryan Timmons and junior college transfer Javess Blue will have every opportunity to be fixtures at receiver this fall.

Forecast: Stoops has quite the task in his first season with the Wildcats. The good news is that the defensive-minded coach will have a lot of talent and experience to work with along his defensive line. Past coaches waited and waited for defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph to reach their potential. Now, it seems like both are ready to do that and more this fall. Helping them out will be Alvin "Bud" Dupree, who is one of the league's best pass-rushers and moved from linebacker to end when the Wildcats went from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3. Having Za'Darius Smith and freshman Jason Hatcher at the ends should make this line even more athletic this fall.

There are mixed reviews at running back. Even with the loss of Josh Clemons for the second straight year, the Wildcats have senior Raymond Sanders and sophomore Dyshawn Mobley, who is returning from hernia surgery. Both had good springs, but with Clemons' injury and the departure of Justin Taylor, both have to remain healthy because there isn't much depth at all.

There's a three-headed quarterback battle that carried into camp. Sophomore Jalen Whitlow left spring with the edge, but he still has to beat Maxwell Smith, who began last season as the starter before injuries took his season, and classmate Patrick Towles.

Players have to step up at receiver and tight end, and the Wildcats are thin at linebacker after Dupree's move to the defensive line. Three starters from the secondary are gone; Kentucky is getting some help, but it's coming in the form of the 2013 signees.

Stoops knows he has a lot of issues to work through in his first season, and while a bowl game could be a lofty goal, there's no doubt the Wildcats will be more competitive in 2013. Stoops certainly wants to win this fall, but a lot of the season will be devoted to development for the future.

Video: Kentucky RB Raymond Sanders

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
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Chris Low talks with Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders.
The other day I was asked a question about the SEC that caught me off guard a little.

And no, it wasn't about Bob Stoops or scheduling.

I was asked if the league would be a quarterback or running back league in 2013. Obviously, when you think about the SEC, you think of pound-it-out, grind-it-out football. Games are won and lost in the trenches and running backs are usually a team's most coveted asset. The more the merrier, too.

But the SEC returns some pretty good experience at both positions.

At running back, the SEC will be without four of the league's top 10 rushers -- Eddie Lacy, Mike Gillislee, Zac Stacy and Kendial Lawrence -- from the 2012 season. The SEC will be without three of the top 10 passers -- Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson and Jordan Rodgers.

Now, my math skills tell me that seven top players at a position is better than six, but the SEC is deep at running back this season. Of the seven top quarterbacks returning, six reached 2,500 passing yards, while only two made it to 3,000 yards -- Aaron Murray and Johnny Manziel. Nine true starters return (Kentucky's Maxwell Smith missed most of last season and ended the spring behind Jalen Whitlow). So five teams are breaking in new starters.

The SEC saw eight running backs hit the 1,000-yard mark last season. There's a chance the league could not only reach that number again but it could eclipse it.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanT.J. Yeldon takes over for running back Eddie Lacy as "the guy" for Alabama.
Alabama lost Lacy -- and his 1,322 yards/17 touchdowns -- but rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon appears more than ready to take over as the lead back. He rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and it sounds like he looked even better as the guy. He'll also have help from fellow sophomore Kenyan Drake, who played in 12 games last year, and Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, who are both returning from season-ending knee injuries. Remember, Fowler had nearly 400 rushing yards in 2011. True freshman Derrick Henry, who was tearing it up this spring before his leg injury, should help once he's healthy this fall.

Oh, and Alabama will welcome three more backs this summer, including ESPN 150 member Alvn Kamara.

Texas A&M and Florida will also have the luxury of a packed backfield. The Aggies return leading rusher (for a running back) Ben Malena (808 yards), but will also have rising sophomore Trey Williams, and transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. Brandon Williams might be the most talented of the bunch, and none of these guys should get too tired with all those legs to work with.

The Gators lost Gillislee, but sophomore-to-be Matt Jones had an excellent spring. He knew the playbook backward and forward and showed a more physical style. He already has the goal of getting 1,500 yards. But he'll have help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who had a very solid spring, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor (early enrollee) and Adam Lane. The coaches feel very good about all four contributing a lot this fall.

Georgia is a little thin at running back, but with Gurley and Keith Marshall returning, the Dawgs could have the best running back duo in the SEC -- maybe the country.

Here's a quick look at how other SEC teams currently fare at running back heading into the summer:

Arkansas

The Razorbacks lack experience at the position, but sophomore Jonathan Williams made good strides this spring and looks poised to be the top back. He'll also have incoming freshman Alex Collins to help him this fall.

Auburn

Tre Mason and his 1,000 yards return. He should have even more space to work with in Gus Malzahn's spread, which could spell trouble for defenses. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne had a solid spring, and Corey Grant returns.

Kentucky

Leading rushers Raymond Sanders (669 yards) and Jonathan George (504 yards) return with two talented youngsters to help out. Dyshawn Mobley had an excellent spring and Josh Clemons is back from a devastating knee injury he suffered in 2011.

LSU

Legal issues have Jeremy Hill's fall status unknown for the fall. If he returns, he gives the Tigers on of the top backs in the league. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue return, but LSU will be thin at the position without Hill.

Mississippi State

LaDarius Perkins returns after his 1,000-yard season. He's a complete back and can hurt teams running and catching. Josh Robinson returns after a productive year as the backup. Nick Griffin has a ton of skill, but still hasn't reached his potential.

Missouri

Lawrence is gone, but Henry Josey is back and says he's 100 percent after his devastating knee injury in 2011. He was one of the Big 12's best and most explosive running backs before his injury. The Tigers have plenty of bodies at running back and should get good use out of Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough.

Ole Miss

Leading rusher Jeff Scott (846) is back and he'll be working with some solid sophomores in I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. True freshman Mark Dodson had a productive spring as well. Along with the six returning lettermen, Ole Miss will have three more signees on campus this fall.

South Carolina

Mike Davis isn't trying to be Marcus Lattimore, but he did a good job of taking his spot this spring. The rising sophomore can pound it or break out for that home run play. Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson are back from injuries and ESPN 150 member David Williams will be in town this fall.

Tennessee

Marlin Lane's off-field problems didn't help things this spring, but Butch Jones was very happy with the play of Alden Hill and Rajion Neal this spring. Lane has every chance to come back and if he does the Vols will have a pretty solid three-headed rushing monster.

Vanderbilt

Stacy is gone, but Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow had good springs in Nashville. Jerron Seymour gives Vandy another body to use, as well. Tate and Kimbrow both have big-play ability, but they'll have to stay healthy because there isn't a lot of experience behind them.
The SEC welcomed in four new head coaches this spring. There are always awkward moments with new coaching staffs, but this spring saw a lot of positives from the four new faces.

Here's a quick look at how all four have done during their first few months on the job:

Bret Bielema (Arkansas)

The one thing Bielema wanted to instill in his new players was a more physical mentality. This team lost its edge early last season and never regained it. But under new management, Bielema made sure his tough, hard-nosed persona from Wisconsin rubbed off on his players. That seemed to be the case, especially with running back Jonathan Williams, who really toughened up this spring. Another positive from Bielema's arrival has been the increased confidence he's brought with his own bravado he showed at times.

There are still questions with depth, especially at linebacker, and true playmakers need to be found at wide receiver. Bielema also said goodbye to four players after the spring. The biggest loss was backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who could have been used in a few different ways in Arkansas' offense. Form an athletic standpoint, Mitchell is a big loss for Bielema. The good news is that he'll have some decent offensive weapons, including running back Alex Collins, to work with from this 2013 class in the fall.

Gus Malzahn (Auburn)

The big thing for Malzahn is that he was already very comfortable with the program after serving as the offensive coordinator under former coach Gene Chizik. But talk about having a lot more on his plate than he wanted during his first spring. Not only was he slowly trying to change the mind-set of a program that really has fallen since its 2010 national championship, he had to deal with allegations over past off-field incidents with that same 2010 team. Instead of making it a bigger deal for his staff and players, Malzahn didn't even bring it up. He said all the right things and made sure his players were focused on field issues, not the media. Major kudos to him for keeping his players on track.

It's obvious that the offensive players are more comfortable with Malzahn's spread, compared to Scot Loeffler's pro-style from 2012, so that was a big lift for this team. Malzahn's next goal is to find his starting quarterback. There are options, but it's really down to Kiehl Frazier, who is very familiar with Malzahn, and Jonathan Wallace. He also needs to find reliable receiving targets to help whichever quarterback emerges this fall.

Mark Stoops (Kentucky)

There certainly is a lot more excitement around Kentucky's program. That became very obvious when a record crowd of 50,831 showed up for the Wildcats' spring game. He really got things going with a strong closing in his first recruiting class and his personality is really rubbing Big Blue Nation the right way.

But Stoops has quite the uphill trek in front of him. While he has a very solid foundation along his defensive line, he's thin at linebacker and in the secondary. He also has to figure out who his quarterback is and where the production will come from at the wide receiver spot. Consistency is still an issue there. The good news is that he does like where his running game is with the return of Raymond Sanders, Dyshawn Mobley and Josh Clemons.

Butch Jones (Tennessee)

Like Stoops, Jones has a bit of a fight in front of him. He has some good experience coming back on defense, but he's thin in the secondary. Still, the front seven looked much more aggressive this spring with the Vols going back to a 4-3 scheme. This group was much more comfortable with the changes made on defense and as whole, this group is trending upward.

Jones' new up-tempo offense could bring some real growing pains to an offense that is breaking in a new quarterback and new receivers. There isn't a lot of experience at all at either position and there were some real shaky moments on offense this spring, especially in the spring game. Having a beastly offensive line back will help.

Jones has made a ton of noise off the field, though. He's recruiting like a madman and has injected some excitement back into this program. I think a lot of people are surprised at how well he's recruited in such a short amount of time, and it could only get better.
2012 record: 2-10
2012 conference record: 0-8 (seventh, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Jalen Whitlow, QB Maxwell Smith, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Dyshawn Mobley, DT Mister Cobble, DT Donte Rumph, DE Alvin Dupree, LB Avery Williamson

Key losses

RB CoShik Williams, WR La’Rod King, OG Larry Warford, C Matt Smith, DE Collins Ukwu, DE Taylor Wyndham, S Martavius Neloms, S Mikie Benton

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Raymond Sanders* (669 yards)
Passing: Maxwell Smith* (975 yards)
Receiving: La’Rod King (488 yards)
Tackles: Avery Williamson* (135)
Sacks: Alvin Dupree* (6.5)
Interceptions: J.D. Harmon* (2)

Spring answers

1. Stout defensive line: New coach Mark Stoops has to be very happy with the foundation he has along his defensive line. There has always been potential with guys like Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph, but they've never truly put things together. However, the entire line impressed this spring and should be driving force for Kentucky’s defense. Rumph missed most of spring with a shoulder injury, but should be fine this fall. Having Dupree at end in the new 4-3 scheme now provides the Cats with a top-notch pass-rusher. Add junior-college transfer defensive end Za'Darius Smith, and Kentucky should certainly hold its own up front this fall.

2. Comfort at running back: Stoops is still searching for more playmakers on offense, but he was pretty happy with what he saw from his running backs this spring, especially senior Raymond Sanders and Dyshawn Mobley. Sanders has been around for a while, but he’s battled health issues. Mobley did well last season as a freshman, but really stepped up this spring. Josh Clemons is back from his 2011 knee injury and showed flashes of his old playmaking self at times this spring.

3. Offensive line feeling fine: The Wildcats might have lost two mainstays up front in Larry Warford and Matt Smith, but it sounds like the line did well without them around. Redshirt freshman Zach Myers spent the spring in Matt Smith’s spot, and both tackles -- Kevin Mitchell and Darrian Miller -- return. However, Mitchell worked inside this spring and the very large Jordan Swindle spent the majority of his time at right tackle with the first-team line.

Fall questions

1. Whitlow’s time?: The Cats have a three-headed quarterback competition on their hands, but it sounds like Jalen Whitlow, who was a true freshman last year, has the edge heading into summer workouts. He moved past Maxwell Smith (last year’s starter before injuries ended his season early) and Towles after having the most impressive outing during the spring game. Whitlow really showed a lot of improvement this spring and is probably the most athletic of the three. Still, Stoops has said competition will continue this fall.

2. Searching for a go-to receiver: La'Rod King is gone, so the coaches are searching for someone to be a consistent target for whichever quarterback wins the starting job. There were only six scholarship receivers on the team this spring and there isn’t a ton of experience there. Demarco Robinson returns with 28 catches from last year and has shown that he’s an explosive player, but he has to be more consistent going forward. Daryl Collins is next in line and has shown playmaking flashes as well, but caught just 17 passes last year.

3. Help at linebacker and the secondary: The Cats are thin at linebacker and throughout the secondary. Kentucky lost three starters in the secondary and Dupree moved to defensive line this spring. Avery Williamson will provide an anchor at middle linebacker and Miles Simpson is back on the outside, but there isn’t a lot of experience at linebacker, and Stoops didn’t sign any in his first class. Junior starting safety Ashely Lower's recent car accident has his status for the season unknown, and there isn’t much experience in the secondary. Help is on the way in terms of numbers with the 2013 class, but the youth back there will likely have to deal with a lot of growing pains this fall.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 1, 2013
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I'd definitely say that Sunday was the day of must-see TV.

Here's some info on the three scrimmages that occured over the weekend:
On to the links:

Season report card: Kentucky

January, 17, 2013
1/17/13
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We're taking a look at the grades for the Kentucky Wildcats from the 2012 season:

OFFENSE: Injuries ravaged Kentucky's entire team, but really crippled the Wildcats' offense. The biggest losses were starting quarterback Maxwell Smith and running backs Josh Clemons, who sat out the 2012 season because of a knee injury he suffered in 2011, and CoShik Williams. They all missed significance time and the Wildcats' offense suffered because of it. Kentucky finished the season 13th in the SEC in total offense (315 yards per game) and last in scoring (17.9). Kentucky scored less than 20 points nine times in 2012 and managed more than 400 yards of total offense just three times all season, while averaging a league-low 4.8 yards per play. The Wildcats tied for last in the SEC with 27 touchdowns and were last with eight field goals. They were also 13th in the league with 146 plays that went more than 10-plus yards. The Wildcats ended up playing the majority of the season with two freshmen quarterbacks in Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles. They combined to throw three touchdowns and three interceptions. Whitlow played in 10 games, throwing for 801 yards. Raymond Sanders battled through injury to lead the Wildcats with 669 rushing yards and five touchdowns. La'Rod King led Kentucky in receiving (488), but after King, no player registered more than 297 receiving yards. Injuries were a major part of Kentucky's struggles, but the offense just never saw any sort of growth or improvement throughout the year. Grade: F

DEFENSE: The defense made strides in the second year under defensive coordinator Rick Minter, but the Wildcats finished the season ranked in the bottom half of the SEC in all of the major defensive categories, including ranking 13th in the league in scoring defense (31). The Wildcats also surrendered 48 touchdowns and were outscored 372-215. Eight times Kentucky allowed 30-plus points in games last fall. The Wildcats only grabbed 13 takeaways, including just five interceptions. Kentucky had injury issues on the defensive side, as well, but there wasn't enough growth from this defense as the season went on. Against SEC opponents, the Wildcats were outscored by an average of 25 points and gave up 36 points in those games. The Wildcats also allowed 424 yards in SEC games. Grade: F

OVERALL: A year after stopping a string of five straight bowl appearances, the Wildcats won just two games and went winless in SEC play. Coach Joker Phillips didn't even make it through the season, but he admitted during his way out that there weren't enough positive results for him to stay at Kentucky. The offense sputtered out of control thanks to injury and poor execution, while the defense was below average for most of the year. For the second straight year, the Wildcats struggled finding consistent playmakers on offense and the defense broke down too many times during league play. Things got off to a rocky start with the loss to Louisville, and the best win of the season came against a Kent State team that nearly made a BCS bowl game. Grade: F

Past grades:

Best/worst in 2012: Kentucky

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
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Kentucky is up next as we continue to look at the best and worst moments for all 14 SEC teams in 2012:

BEST

There weren't a lot of good moments for the Wildcats in 2012. In a year in which the head coach was fired and the team wins just two games, happy moments were hard to come by. But in Week 2, the Wildcats were at their strongest. In a year ravaged by injuries, Kentucky looked like an offensive juggernaut in its 47-14 win over Kent State. Yes, the same Kent State that was a win away from making a BCS bowl game. With starting quarterback Maxwell Smith still standing upright, the Wildcats churned out a season-high 539 yards of offense, including a career-high 354 passing yards and four touchdowns from Smith. Kentucky trailed 7-0 after the first quarter, but then took off, scoring 47 of the next 54 points. Running back Raymond Sanders ran for 115 yards and scored on a 67-yard touchdown run, while wide receiver Aaron Boyd set career highs in receptions (11) and receiving yards (100). He also had a touchdown catch. This was easily Kentucky's most complete game of the year.

WORST

You can point to all of the injuries, starting with Smith, but at the end of the day, the Wildcats just weren't getting better as the year went on. Kentucky watched as most players spent more time in the infirmary than on the football field, but the worst moment of the year for this team was its embarrassing 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt. Commonwealth Stadium was hardly filled and the Commodores ran up and down the field at will against the wounded Wildcats. Vandy out-gained the Wildcats 447-260 and was up 27-0 by halftime. Freshmen quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles combined to complete just 13 of 35 passes for 159 yards against Vandy's stingy defense. To no one's surprise, coach Joker Phillips was fired the very next day. The results just weren't there, and even though the injuries mounted, the Wildcats didn't improve. To lose so handily to Vanderbilt was the final straw for athletic director Mitch Barnhart.

Prior best/worst:

Phillips gets a win in home finale

November, 18, 2012
11/18/12
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Kentucky's Joker Phillips went out a winner Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.

The players carried Phillips off on their shoulders following Kentucky's 34-3 win over Samford, snapping the Wildcats' eight-game losing streak.

Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart announced two weeks ago that Phillips would not return as coach, and his players urged him to finish out the season. Phillips played at Kentucky and was also an assistant coach at his alma mater before replacing Rich Brooks as head coach following the 2009 season. Phillips has been a part of the program in some capacity for more than 20 years.

It's been a rough couple of (football) seasons in the Bluegrass, for sure. But Phillips has been as classy as they come and deserved to go out a winner at home, even if it was over an FCS team.

The Wildcats (2-9, 0-7) rushed for 342 yards -- including a career-high 123 yards by Raymond Sanders -- and scored their first defensive touchdown of the season when Tristian Johnson returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown.

Kentucky closes the season next week at Tennessee in a matchup of teams winless in the SEC.

Lunchtime links

October, 10, 2012
10/10/12
12:15
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Time for some links.
The injuries just keep piling up at Kentucky.

After losing starting quarterback Maxwell Smith indefinitely after he suffered a serious ankle injury, Kentucky is now down its starting running back, as coach Joker Phillips announced Wednesday that senior CoShik Williams is out for the season with a torn labrum in his hip.

Williams, who led the Wildcats in rushing last season, has battled injuries all season and only saw action on a total of 14 plays in just two games of work. He had rushed for 66 yards, including 62 in the opener against Louisville.

This is yet another blow to the Wildcats' running game. Sophomore Josh Clemons, who might be the most talented of Kentucky's running backs, has yet to play this season because he's still recovering from a knee injury suffered last season. Phillips said Wednesday that Clemons is still out, so the possibility of him redshirting this season has become more and more of a reality.

This season, Kentucky is 13th in the SEC in rushing, averaging just 119.6 yards per game.

So, the Wildcats will turn to junior Raymond Sanders, who leads Kentucky with 260 rushing yards and has two touchdowns on 40 carries. Junior Jonathan George, who has started the past two games, will also help. He's rushed for 182 yards and a team-high three touchdowns on 35 carries.

"Those two have played well," Phillips said of Sanders and George. "The thing that we must do is give them more opportunities.

"We're running the ball efficiently, just gotta get more opportunities."

Those opportunities haven't come because of offensive turnovers and the defense's inability to get off of the field, Phillips said.

Phillips is planning to give more reps to freshman Dyshawn Mobley and is considering stripping away Justin Taylor's redshirt if needed.

What you won't see are more designed runs for Kentucky's quarterbacks, as neither Jalen Whitlow nor Patrick Towles are fit to be effective runners, Phillips said.

Injuries hit Alabama and Kentucky

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
4:35
PM ET
The injury bug has set up shop in the SEC.

Week 6 has started with Alabama and Kentucky losing a couple of offensive players. For Alabama, the Tide will be down sophomore wide receiver DeAndrew White and redshirt freshman running back Dee Hart, after both suffered season-ending knee injuries in Alabama's win over Ole Miss this past weekend.

Tide coach Nick Saban said that both will require surgery.

Losing White takes away a deep threat for the Tide. He had only caught eight passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns this season, but he entered the season expecting to be a key part of the Tide's more downfield passing game. Now, true freshman Amari Cooper, who is coming off of his best game with the Tide (eight catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns) will move to White's starting "X" position. Junior Kevin Norwood and sophomore Christion Jones will compete for time there as well.

Freshman Cyrus Jones has the "athlete" labeled attached to his name, but has lined up at receiver this season. He'll now be expected to do more at that position going forward.

The good news for Alabama is that there are a few players to pick from at wide receiver, although they are young. Young, but talented. Plus, when you have a quarterback like AJ McCarron directing things, the passing game should be just fine.

At running back, the Tide is now down to three scholarship running backs, with Jalston Fowler being lost for the season with a knee injury earlier this season. While Hart provided a nice option in the passing game for the Tide, he wasn't exactly a between-the-tackles guy, so Alabama won't be hurt too much in that area. Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake should still be able to work just fine at running back. Expect to see even more of Drake.

Kentucky isn't so lucky when it comes to quality depth. The Wildcats have lost starting quarterback Maxwell Smith "indefinitely," coach Joker Phillips said. Smith is out after injuring his ankle against South Carolina over the weekend. Phillips said Smith will need surgery to repair a torn ligament in his ankle.

With Smith missing a game with a shoulder injury, Phillips said that the team will apply for a medical hardship for Smith if he can't return this season.

Now, the Wildcats will turn to a freshman duo at quarterback in Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles. Towles, who was arguably the Wildcats' most ballyhooed signee in 2012, will now burn his redshirt as he competes with Whitlow, Phillips said.

"It's going to take an effort of both of them," Phillips said. And it could be right in the middle of the series. If it's not series to series, it could be play after play after play, switching them in and out, give them things that they both can do, give them a chance to go out and play and compete."

This offense has bee inept without Smith in the lineup, so losing him is a huge blow the Wildcats. Already reeling with a 1-4 record, this team has to rally around a new quarterback -- or two. It will be important that their confidence and knowledge of the playbook are both accelerated this week before taking on No. 20 Mississippi State, which sports arguably the best cornerback duo in the SEC with Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay.

Phillips also said that starting safety Dakotah Tyler is out for the season with a torn ACL and running backs CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders are both day-to-day. Tight end Gabe Correll is also out with an injury.

Losing Tyler hurts the Wildcats with depth. Kentucky was already struggling with bodies in its secondary, so this certainly doesn't help.

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