By Keith Taylor, The Winchester Sun
LEXINGTON – Raymond Sanders isn’t down.
Despite Kentucky’s 48-17 loss to No. 9 Missouri Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium that eliminated the Wildcats from the postseason and kept Kentucky winless in the Southeastern Conference, Sanders is confident the team can finish strong with three games remaining.
It starts with Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt, which stunned Florida at the Swamp, followed by a contest at Georgia and the home finale against Tennessee on Thanksgiving weekend. Kentucky’s second-half showing against the Tigers gave Sanders plenty of reason for optimism.
“In the second half, we came out, competed and moved the ball well,” Sanders said. “I feel like (Missouri) has a pretty good team, but we didn’t come out with enough fight.”
Sanders, the primary running back, rushed for 34 yards and a 1-yard touchdown against the Tigers, but displayed his versatility as an option in the passing game. Sanders hauled in four passes for 70 yards, including a 40-yard reception that started good and ended up bad for Sanders.
Following the long run following the reception, Sanders fumbled the ball, a turnover that resulted in a touchdown for Missouri. Sanders took responsibility for the miscue and stayed in the lineup. Sanders said the ball was on the “inside of his hand” before the ball popped out.”
“The guy came from behind me and knocked the ball out (of my hands),” Sanders said. “When I made my cut and made the first guy miss, the guy came from behind and that’s where he got me and knocked the ball out. My fumble hurt definitely. If I don’t fumble that ball we were going to go down and score and it’s an 11-point game. I apologized after the game for that play. You’ve just got to take advantage of the opportunities.”
The Kentucky running back admitted that duplicating mistakes and the losses are “very frustrating.”
“We’re in the same position and we just keep repeating mistakes,” he said. “We’ve just got to execute better and start out with more fight than what we did.”
In addition to his rushing and long catch, Sanders also had 41 yards in kickoff returns and finished with 145 all-purpose yards.
Despite the fumble, Sanders said the Wildcats picked up the intensity in the second half, which led to a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter.
“We were playing harder, executing better and doing a lot of things better we weren’t doing in the first half. We weren’t playing hard enough (in the first half). The team came out in the second half, played harder and with a lot more fight.”
Sanders said the main issue behind the team’s inability to execute during the first two quarters was because of Missouri’s defensive front, but added the team’s slow start also aided the Tigers in the early stages of the game.
“They’ve got a great front four,” he said. “But we’ve got to play with a lot more fight than what we started with. We’ve got to just play with a lot more fight and compete. We’re making progress offensively and I feel like we’re getting better, but when you come out against a front four like that guys not play as hard as they can, it’s going to affect the offense and you’re not going to be able to move the ball as well as you can. If we could have came out (like we did) at the beginning of the second half the beginning of the game and played like that throughout the game, I feel like we would have had a better chance of winning that game.”
In the future, Sanders plans on doing his part to make sure a duplication of the team’s first-half showing against Missouri doesn’t happen the rest of the month.
“I’m definitively going to be more vocal and make sure (we’re) ready because we just can’t (start slow),” Sanders said. “We started fast (with a field goal), but once we faced adversity, we just got flat. You can’t get flat. When something happens, we’ve got to keep the same intensity. We’ve got win some games.”