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Raymond Sanders

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops faced a difficult decision on senior Raymond Sanders, his leading rusher and a player he consistently praised all season for his leadership.

Sanders was suspended for UK’s final game against Tennessee, the same game where UK’s senior would be honored in a pregame ceremony. Did he ban Sanders from participating since he was suspended? Did he let him participate because of what he had meant to the team all season?

Stoops opted to let him participate with 18 other teammates in the pregame ceremony and he received a nice ovation from Kentucky fans.

“He made a mistake.  You know, he didn’t make a mistake to dismiss him from the team,” Stoops said after the game. “He just couldn’t play in this game.  I don’t see why ‑‑ I didn’t want that to define Raymond for the rest of his time for all that he did.  That wasn’t, in my opinion, the right thing to do.”

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think of Stoops’ decision and his loyalty to Sanders for what he did from the time Stoops arrived until he did make his one mistake.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky will be without its leading rusher, senior Raymond Sanders, Saturday night when the Wildcats close the season by  hosting Tennessee.

“I’ll let y’all know right now, because it will be news throughout the week, but there will be one senior that will not play this week and that will be Raymond (Sanders), and he will not be permitted to play this week,” Stoops said Monday.

Kentucky had three players suspended at Georgia — defensive end Jason Hatcher, cornerback Cody Quinn and receiver Demarco Robinson. Hatcher and Quinn will be back this week, but not Robinson, the team’s best receiver in recent games. Stoops did say Robinson (20 catches for 213 yards and two scores) can return for his senior season “provided he meets some requirements that we’ll put on him” before then. He also said all the suspensions were from separate incidents.

Sanders has rushed for 464 yards and three scores and has 683 all-purpose yards. He is out for a “violation of team rules” after rumors swirled last week that he was off the team. Sanders was suspended for one game during the 2012 season for a violation of team rules under then coach Joker Phillips.

” We were working through a couple things last week, and you may or may not have heard this.  You all know I got some questions on him.  We got some more information back today and firmed up our decision with what I’m going to do with him on this Saturday,” Stoops said of Sanders.

Stoops said he wasn’t sure yet if Sanders, a player he praised often this season for his leadership, would go through Senior Day festivities.

“To be honest with you, I got this information about an hour ago.  So let me think through that a little bit.  But I’ll let you know tomorrow,” Stoops said.

Stoops called it “very disappointing” that this happened with Sanders.

“I’ve sat in here and bragged on him throughout the year.  That doesn’t change my opinion of Raymond. I think he’s a good person.  I am disappointed in a few decisions that he made, but he’s a good person.  He was a good person for this program,” Stoops said. “Let’s not let this define him.  I am disappointed; it’s not acceptable and he will not play.  That’s really all I wanted to say.  I don’t want to get too much into detail about that.  But Raymond’s just suspended for this game.  He’s not kicked off the team or anything like that.  He just can’t play in this game.”

Kentucky WR Demarco Robinson
On reaction to today’s game:
“We’re always down when we lose. I feel like we move the ball good at times, but we’ve gotta learn how to finish, to stick it in the end zone.”

On the first interception:
“It was just a bad pass, a little bad luck on our part, but you know, we work hard to make it better. We just have to keep going.”

On being a close game:
“It definitely hurts a lot. Obviously, we see the chance to capitalize on turnovers and things like that, but you know we just have to work harder to capitalize and stick it in the end zone when we can.”

On what is keeping the team from finishing drives:
“I’m not sure. It’s a mixture of things. Whether it’s someone not doing their assignment or jumping off sides, penalties or anything, dropped passes, or missed holes. It’s everybody’s fault. We just have to come out and work harder.”

On Coach Stoops’ reaction:
“He was real fired up. He said we fought good. He liked the effort, but like we said we have to get the W.”

On dominating first half and still being down:
“We always just take what we got. We aren’t looking at it bad or good, we just take the situation we got and move forward.”

Kentucky RB Raymond Sanders
On being more of the same:
“We just gotta learn to finish plays. We got started a couple of drives and didn’t execute on third down plays.”

On what’s preventing the team from improving:
“It’s the momentum. We need to learn how to pick things up. When a penalty is called on us, we can’t just get down from there on, we just have to learn to come on and bring ourselves back together.”

On being tougher because it’s a close game:
“This really was a disappointment. We just have to keep going. Keep it up at practice, keep going, and start over on Georgia next week.”

Kentucky WR Javess Blue
On the close loss:
“This really was a disappointment for us. We gotta keep going and keep it up at practice. We’ll start over on Georgia next week.”

On the cause of the offensive struggles:
“It’s just momentum. We need to learn how to pick things up. When a penalty is called on us, we can’t just get down from there on. We just have to learn how to bring ourselves back together and get the first down.”

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Photos by Clay Jackson, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

UK RB Raymond Sanders runs for yardage in the first quarter of the Missouri loss. (Clay Jackson photo/all rights reserved)

UK RB Raymond Sanders runs for yardage in the first quarter of the Missouri loss. (Clay Jackson photo/all rights reserved)

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.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Question his execution, but don’t question Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow’s toughness. At least not after the way he hung in here Saturday in UK’s 48-17 loss to No. 9 Missouri.

Coach Mark Stoops had questioned Whitlow’s toughness earlier this season, but he did not let a swarming Missouri defense or painful left shoulder — at times he had trouble getting up off the ground after taking a hit — keep him from running the offense. He led three drives of 70-plus yards, ran for 44 yards and one score, and threw for 225 yards.

Stoops said he noticed that Whitlow played with more toughness.

“He had some tough runs against tough, physical defense,” said Stoops. “It was nice to see. You could tell he was hurting. He is learning to compete. I thought he did some good things. He led our team good. We need to improve, but we need to play better around him.”

But does playing in pain give him more credibility/leadership with teammates?

“I think so. It does,” Stoops said.

Whitlow admitted he was in pain. His left shoulder hurt, especially after hits. He acknowledged at times he had trouble even getting up. At times his left wrist hurt. Late in the game, his ankle — he hurt that against Alabama — flared up again.

“We respect him a lot,” receiver Demarco Robinson said. “He went out to help his team and stayed out there. We just have to do more to help him.”

Whitlow helped UK (2-7) amass 204 of its 369 total yards in the third quarter. He finished a 73-yard touchdown drive with a 1-yard run, completed a 40-yard pass to Raymond Sanders and had a 6-yard run to set up Sanders’ 1-yard score to cap a 75-yard play.

“We just came out on fire in the third quarter, but we have to do that more,” Whitlow said as he held his wrist. “We should do what we did in the third quarter all the time. I am not discouraged by any means. We’ve just got to get better.”

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown knew Whitlow got better and he appreciated the pain Whitlow played through most of the game.

“I think he showed a lot of guts,” Brown said. “We challenged them all at halftime, him included. That first half was as bad a half as we’ve played. We played hungry football the third quarter and he was the catalyst. This offense is starving for somebody to be a leader and I am proud of how he competed.”

Leadership comes slowly. The soft-spoken Whitlow is not a screamer, and not overly emotional.

“It’s always good for the quarterback to be the leader and I am working on being more vocal,” Whitlow said. “I am not one to scream at guys. I think that is overrated. I am not one to get in a guy’s face. I prefer just to lay it all on the line.”

Sanders said he sees Whitlow’s leadership improving, and it will keep getting better.

“He does struggle with being vocal, but he’s only a sophomore. It is growing on him. As the years go on, he’ll be fine as a leader. He had a great game today and he’ll continue to grow as a leader,”  Sanders said.

But it takes more than just toughness and leadership, even from a quarterback, to beat the nation’s No. 9 team and Kentucky simply self-destructed too many times.

— UK drove 76 yards on its first possession, but couldn’t get into the end zone after getting a first down inside the 10-yard line and had to settle for a field goal and 3-0 lead.

— Landon Foster shanked a punt 13 yards to set Missouri up for only a 39-yard scoring drive on its first touchdown. But that was not as bad as getting his next punt blocked inside the UK 5 to set up an even easier score.  “He just shanked that. No excuse for that. Then we got the one bocked. That wasn’t his fault,” Stoops said.

— Trailing 21-3, Kentucky recovered a fumbled punt into the Missouri 10, but the play was negate by an illegal formation penalty on UK on the punt. “That was a huge turnaround,” Brown said.

— After driving 73 yards to score to start the second half and cut the gap to 28-10, UK held Missouri and then Whitlow hit Sanders for a 40-yard pass completion. However, Sanders fumbled — “He has to hold on to the ball,” Stoops said — at the end of the play and and Missouri scored to go up 35-10. Kentucky had not lost a turnover since Sept. 28 against Florida.

— UK drove 75 yards to score and make it 35-17 late in period three only to give up a 62-yard kickoff return and then was called for a personal foul on Missouri’s first play. On fourth-and-three at the Kentucky 7-yard line, Missouri quarterback Maty Mauck picked on UK cornerback Nate Willis again for a score and 41-17 lead.

“We had some tough matchups,” Stoops said. “It wasn’t a great effort by us. It wasn’t. I may get frustrated, but I am not discouraged. We will get it done.”

avery-end-of-game

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Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky senior running back Raymond Sanders says not to worry about a team letdown because of the four-game skid and 1-5 overall record after Saturday’s loss to No. 1 Alabama.

“We’re going to have a lot of fight. I can tell you that,” Sanders said. “We’re going to call people out who’s not giving 100 percent every play, no matter the score. We’re going to see that.

“We’re definitely not going to be a team that gives up. We’ve got a whole new season and me and some other guys are going to make sure of that, call people out after this film and see who wants to play and who wants to play the whole game and give 100 percent for the team to win.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Really, everyone should have known it was just fool’s gold when Kentucky and No. 1 Alabama were tied 0-0 after one quarter. But this was A-L-A-B-A-M-A, the team that has won the last two national titles and three of the last four, and one had to know the Tide wouldn’t keep losing fumbles deep in UK territory as it did twice in the first quarter or dropping a touchdown pass as it did early in the second period.

Once the Tide got rolling, it was reality time as Alabama cruised to a 48-7 victory over outmanned, outnumbered and outtalented UK.

“There is nothing magical you can do against that team,” said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops. “I was disappointed in our overall effort.”

Alabama’s philosophy under coach Nick Saban is extremely simple. The nation’s best athletes executing simple plays on offense — similar to what John Calipari wants to do with Kentucky basketball — with a quarterback, A.J. McCarron, that doesn’t make bad decisions and a swarming, hard-hitting defense with speed that doesn’t miss tackles.

Kentucky? It took the Wildcats 31 plays to cross midfield, which wasn’t that surprising considering starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow went out with an ankle injury on UK’s second series and backup quarterback Maxwell Smith had trouble finding any rhythm against Bama’s defense.

UK’s defense just wore down and couldn’t keep Alabama from eluding tackles or making yards after contact. Defensive end Bud Dupree didn’t dress. Three players played with broken hands. Several others were hurt during the game.

Kentucky managed just 170 total yards, but did at least become only the second team — Texas A&M was the first — to score a touchdown against the Tide on Javess Blue’s 30-yard reception from Smith in period three. Call it a statistical milestone in a game where Alabama had 668 yards — and a 300-yard passer and two 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time ever .

Alabama showed UK that while Louisville, Florida and South Carolina were good teams, there is a big step up to playing the nation’s No. 1 team and just what a job Stoops faces if he wants to close the talent gap on the SEC’s best team.

“That is a team that does everything right. From top to bottom, an extremely physical team,” Stoops said. “We got beat up out there tonight. We need to execute better. We certainly can do better in all facets of our team, but they do that to a lot of people.”

Stoops was most disappointed in his team’s overall effort, but also realized it might not have all been what his team wasn’t doing as much as what Alabama dictated.

“I thought we would compete a little bit harder than that, but give credit to them. They are No 1 team in the nation for a reason. I was impressed with them,” Stoops said. “They are physical, they can run it. They had us off balance most of the night like they do to a lot of people.”

Stoops said there was “nowhere to hide” against a talented, physical team like Alabama.

“You have got to man up and play. It is tough sledding,” the UK coach said. “I wanted to go play the game the right way and play as hard as we can and be in the right spots and look like a good football team.”

So did offensive coordinator Neal Brown, and he knew that did not happen.

“They were as good as advertised. But I am very disappointed. Our production is unacceptable,” Brown said. “We have to play better and coach better. You’ve got to be able to move the football better than we did.”

Senior Raymond Sanders ran for 72 yards and said all the Cats can do is look at why Alabama dominated the game and learn from it.

“We need to look at what they did right and I know our offense has got to help our defense more,” Sanders said. “That is a big, strong, physical team. They get after you. They are fast and physical. They play disciplined. We have to learn from all that and be that way. We played a great team, but we can play better than we did tonight.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown says there has been no noticeable change in Jalen Whitlow now that’s established himself as UK’s starting quarterback.

“I think he did a better job in preparation last week than he has. He’s learning. It’s an ongoing process. He’s learning how to prepare week in and week out. But as far as, I think his personality’s coming forward a little bit more maybe. That would be fair to say as far as speaking up. But those were the main things I’d say,” Brown said.

Brown thinks Whitlow’s play at South Carolina where he led UK to three fourth-quarter touchdowns has helped his personality emerge this week.

“I think anytime you look at leadership on your football team, for the most part it’s your best players. The first person that would jump out to me is Avery Williamson and he’s one of our best players. Bud Dupree, he’s one of our best players,” Brown said. “On offense, Darrian Miller, he’s one of our best players, you know what I mean? Raymond Sanders.

“I think the better you play, it’s easier for you to speak up because people respect guys that maybe aren’t playing much, but they’re not necessarily going to listen to people unless they’re out there getting it done.”

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