Rodriguez out for UK opener, Smoke gets call in backfield

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, September 1, 2022

Kentucky will be without its top running back in the season opener against Miami of Ohio on Saturday at Kroger Field.

Veteran Chris Rodriguez has been suspended at least one game and maybe more after he was arrested and charged with DUI in July and is reportedly facing discipline for another off-the-field incident that UK coaches have not confirmed.

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops didn’t give a timetable on his possible return to the lineup.

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“I expect a few of them will have multiple-game suspensions but I don’t know.,” Stoops said without divulging any other specific player or players. “I’ll address it next week … There are layers to things. It’s not always black and white. The players have rights and there are processes involved. That’s where we’re at.”

Stoops added that he has been “in tune with the situation for awhile” and said, “things evolve, things change.”

“Information comes and goes,” he said. “There are different layers to things. That means there are multiple different entities involved. I prefer not to dig anymore into it. I’m not withholding anything. I’ve been pretty in tune with what I felt like things were going to happen, but I have bosses and they have bosses.”

The team’s first depth chart listed Kavosiey Smoke as the No. 1 running back for the opener. Smoke, a senior, is listed ahead of Sam Houston State transfer Ramon Jefferson who was No. 2.

“He (Smoke) has this opportunity right now and we’re excited. I’m excited for him and to see what what he does with it,” Stoops said. “I have a good feeling what he’ll do, you know, because I’ve seen him seen him play through the years. I’ve seen his preparation. I like the way he’s responded.”

Stoops and the coaching staff “put more pressure” on Smoke in training camp with good results.

“We expect a lot out of him and we want to see that consistency,” Stoops said. “I’m proud of the way he’s responded the past couple of weeks because he didn’t start out there. You know, he didn’t start out in the number one spot,  whether Chris was there or not, he’s worked his way (up).”

 Newcomers Impress

Kentucky’s newcomers were impressive in camp and the confidence of Stoops and the coaching staff in the freshmen class was evident on the depth chart.

Six freshmen were on the two-deep depth chart. Heralded receivers Dane Key and Barian Brown are listed on the first team and Stoops thinks at least eight freshmen will “play for sure.”

“I’m very pleased and mentioned it a couple of times, just really like the way they’re preparing, the way they’re playing,” Stoops said. “Consistency is what we’re looking at and, in football, there’s ups and there’s downs and there’s highs and there’s low and freshmen have a tendency  to go through that and how they respond to it will determine how much playing time and how they do this season. They’ve been very consistent to this point.”

 Prayers for Walt

Stoops sent his best wishes to Eastern Kentucky football coach Walt Wells, who suffered a heart emergency Sunday. Wells was a quality control coach under Stoops before taking over at EKU three years ago.

“Our thoughts and our prayers are with Walt and his family. I really loved Walt,” Stoops said. “I’m really close to Walt, who is just a really good person. I really enjoyed having him on our staff and being around him and really try to help help each other as much as we can.

“(He’s) just being down the road and, and, and just really, you know, just praying for him and thinking … he’s just a really good person, great family, and I hope everything goes well for him. I was sick when I heard about it. You know, just it’s not a good feeling.”

Eastern athletics director Matt Roan named Garry McPeek as acting coach on Monday. He will lead the Colonels in their season opener at Eastern Michigan on Friday night.

“These are not the circumstances in which we hoped to be operating within,” said Roan. “That said, the appointment of Coach McPeek as acting head coach allows the team to move forward in the most efficient, least disruptive manner possible.

“Coach McPeek is wholly dedicated to Coach Wells’ team-first philosophy and will do an outstanding job of leading and supporting a terrific staff of coordinators, assistant coaches, and support personnel. Our staff and I look forward to assisting him throughout this process for the benefit of the young men who make up our team.”

Gametracker: Miami of Ohio at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: UK Radio Network, SEC+ and ESPN+.

Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com and via Twitter at keithtaylor21.