No. 20 Kentucky will be without All-SEC running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. when it hosts Miami of Ohio on Saturday night in Lexington, Ky., after he was among several players suspended for at least the season opener by coach Mark Stoops.
Stoops refused Monday to divulge the length of the suspensions.
“I will be extremely loyal to Chris forever because nobody’s perfect and people make mistakes here and there,” Stoops said. “I think everybody’s human, but we all appreciate what Chris has done for this university.”
Those suspended include senior outside linebacker Jordan Wright. In nine games last season, Wright had 30 tackles, six pass breakups and four tackles for loss.
Stoops said he suspects “one will be back next week” when the Wildcats open SEC play at Florida.
Rodriguez was arrested on charges of DUI and careless driving in May and has another unresolved incident that hasn’t been public, according to reports.
Rodriguez ran for 1,379 yards and nine touchdowns last season. He is 1,134 rushing yards away from breaking Benny Snell’s school record for career rushing yards, but a multi-game suspension could hinder his chances of setting the mark.
Senior Kavosiey Smoke, who has rushed for 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career, likely will replace Rodriguez. Ramon Jefferson, who transferred from Sam Houston after running for 1,155 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, also is an option.
“We have great depth at that position,” Stoops said. ” … We have others, and guys will step up and they’ll compete and we’ll play and we won’t miss a beat.”
J.J. Weaver, who had 34 tackles, six sacks and two interceptions last year, is listed atop the depth chart at outside linebacker.
With Rodriguez’s absence, quarterback Will Levis will be counted on even more heavily to get the Wildcats off to a good start.
Levis completed 66 percent of his passes last season for 2,827 yards and 24 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions. He also ran for 376 yards and nine scores on 107 carries.
Expectations are high for Kentucky, which is ranked in the preseason for just the fifth time in school history and for the first time since starting at No. 15 in 1978. Kentucky finished 10-3 and in second place last season in the SEC East Division, behind national champion Georgia.
“First games are always unique because you have a pretty good idea of what you have but you don’t know until you go play a football game,” Stoops said. “I have confidence in this team, I have confidence in the leadership, I have confidence in the preparation that we’ve done to this point. Now it’s time to go put it on the field.”
Kentucky could be tested by what is expected to be a potent Miami of Ohio offense. The RedHawks were picked to finish second in the MAC’s East Division, just behind Kent State.
Quarterback Brett Gabbert completed 59.5 percent of his passes last season for 2,648 yards and 26 touchdowns, with six interceptions.
Miami returns four starters along the offensive line, as well as four running backs — Tyre Shelton, Keyon Mozee, Kevin Davis and Kenny Tracy — who combined to run for 1,448 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.
“The opportunity to play on Saturday night against an SEC team on the road is quite an opportunity and is thrilling for everyone involved,” RedHawks coach Chuck Martin said. “They are a really good team, probably the best Kentucky team ever.”
–Field Level Media
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