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Kentucky missed the tough, physical running of Chris Rodriguez Jr.

Article written by:On3 imageZack Geoghegan


Photo by Kevin Langley | Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Chris Rodriguez Jr. registered 19 carries on Saturday afternoon, and yet it felt like he still could have touched the ball a dozen more times. The redshirt senior finished with 72 yards on the ground and a touchdown to go along with three catches for an additional 40 yards. It was Rodriguez’s season debut after sitting out the first four contests due to suspension.

Kentucky lost a 22-19 heartbreaking top 15 matchup against the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford, but the Wildcats needed everything it got out of the immovable Rodriguez.

“It was great having (Rodriguez) back. He ran tough. He’s just got the right mindset,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said postgame. “He made a big difference today and he just has a physicality to him that you appreciate and value and you feel him out on the field. He did a nice job today and I wish we could have gave him more space to do more.”

Rodriguez wasn’t necessarily explosive in his first game back, but he was consistent. Of his 17 carries, only two were met with him being tackled for a loss. His longest rush of 10 yards was his lone touchdown of the day. It was an incredibly timely score, too, as the ‘Cats were facing a 14-0 hole with the first quarter about to expire.

19 carries is slightly above Rodriguez’s season average for 2021, which was 17.3 Could he have touched the ball more? Sure, especially with Kentucky’s fourth-quarter fumble issues and a banged-up running back room. But there’s a difference between being practice ready and game ready.

“I thought he played good, I thought he did some good things,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said of Rodriguez. “You could tell the game legs were a little — I don’t want to say he’s out of shape but there’s just a difference in playing games when you’re amped up. I could tell it was wearing on him a little bit late in the game and we’ve got a couple of running backs banged up so we needed him out there.”

Just having Rodriguez in the fold adds a needed layer to the offensive scheme for Scangarello, even if he’s not back to top-level game speed just yet. His presence takes some pressure off of QB Will Levis and helps mask the offensive line’s youth.

“It was great,” Levis said of having Rodriguez back. “He ran tough. He ran like Chris does and it didn’t seem like he skipped a beat at all and it’s great to have him back. We’ve got a bunch of great ways we can use him in this offense.”

It’s not every day a team inherits a 2,800-yard career rusher one-third of the way through the season. Kentucky sure did miss theirs.

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