One of the pleasant surprises for Kentucky through its first three games of the season has been a productive rushing attack that is averaging more than 200 yards per game.
The Wildcats are gaining 6.3 yards per carry, a figure which could get even higher with the kind of plays they’re getting from a talented freshman rapidly climbing the depth chart.
JoJo Kemp, who signed with UK out of DeLand (Fla.) High School in February, has provided another exciting option for offensive coordinator Neal Brown coming off a five-carry, 80-yard performance last weekend against Louisville. His day included a 47-yard run that brought the Big Blue faithful to its feet at Commonwealth Stadium.
Although disappointed in a 27-13 setback to the rival Cardinals, the play of Kemp put a big smile on the face of UK head coach Mark Stoops.
“Jojo has got to see more time,” Stoops said flatly. “He does. He's good. He's been coming along. We have to continue to bring him along.”
Earlier in fall camp, Stoops predicted the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Kemp would become a big part of the offense with the intensity he was displaying in practice. The UK boss compared the young back to a “pit bull” and jokingly said he thought Kemp might pull a knife out of his sock and stab somebody during a particularly competitive drill the Wildcats ran.
Despite his limited playing time to date, Kemp is the Wildcats’ leading rusher with 167 net yards. He is averaging an eye-popping 9.3 yards per carry.
“He’s made plays with the ball in his hands,” Brown said. “The thing he does is make quick decisions. There’s no second-guessing… He makes plays, and he hits the hole fast.”
According to UK running backs coach Chad Scott, Kemp brings “a different gear” to the ground game, the proverbial home run threat.
“He’s explosive,” Scott said. “There’s a chance to make something happen every time the ball’s in his hands.
“You always need three or four good backs,” Scott continued. “You need a change of pace, and Jojo’s the kind of guy who can do that.”
That's what Kentucky thought it was getting when it signed Kemp out of the Sunshine State. He picked the Wildcats over programs like Pittsburgh and Tennessee -- no strangers to producing great running backs in their own right -- largely due to his relationship with Scott and the potential to make the kind of early impact he's having on the UK offense.
Kemp is ready to embrace the opportunity. He has been patient in waiting his turn behind UK’s top two backs on the depth chart, seniors Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George.
“Every time they give me an opportunity, I’m going to go out and give it my all,” Kemp said. “Whatever the coaches want, I’ll do. If they want me to sit on the sideline and root for my team in the first half half, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
And while he’d much rather have the ball in his hands more frequently, he’s content with whatever carries he gets as long as it produces a UK win.
“I’d rather rush for one yard and get a win,” Kemp said.