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Cats gain ground control, but Murray, Georgia too much for UK

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Kentucky's upset bid against No. 24 Georgia fell short, 29-24. (Chet White. UK Athletics) Kentucky's upset bid against No. 24 Georgia fell short, 29-24. (Chet White. UK Athletics)
Before he went down with a season-ending injury, senior tailback CoShik Williams had a hard-earned reputation for his violent running style. Despite his small stature, Williams made sure tackling him was an unpleasant task for any defender.

The injury, though, put an end to not only his season, but his career, relegating him to watching from the sideline or his living room.

Junior Raymond Sanders took it hard when he learned of his teammate's fate. Williams' absence gave him a more prominent role, but Sanders would have preferred sharing the backfield with his friend. Instead, he was left trying to come up with a way to pay tribute to Williams.

Eventually, Sanders settled on wearing Williams' jersey number, but doing so was a responsibility. Sanders knew it wouldn't be a proper tribute if he didn't do No. 26 justice against Georgia.

"I think he would be pretty satisfied with how I ran the ball tonight," Sanders said.

Even though it was in a 29-24 loss to the No. 12 Bulldogs, there's little doubt Sanders did the jersey - and Williams - proud.

Sanders carried the ball 18 times for 72 yards and a touchdown, finishing his runs with a kind of physicality that maybe even made a few of the 54,553 fans in Commonwealth Stadium think Williams had made a miraculous recovery.

"I'm pretty sure he'll be giving me a call soon like he does every game," Sanders said. "I was just trying to represent his number well and show him how much I love him as a brother."

Sanders wasn't the only Kentucky back to run with a Williams-like fervor. Starter Jonathan George carried 12 times for a career-high 87 yards, leading a UK rushing attack that rolled up 206 yards on 43 attempts.

"With the way we haven't been able to run the ball the last couple weeks, it was really nice to go out there and run the ball efficiently against these guys, especially with the size they have up front," center Matt Smith said, assuredly thinking of 358-pound nose tackle John Jenkins. "They're not easy guys to move."

With the ground game leading the way, UK (1-7, 0-5 Southeastern Conference) was in it to the very end against Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC). After Sanders scored his touchdown from three yards out with 3:59 left in the fourth quarter, Joe Mansour was mere inches away from recovering an onside kick that would have given the Cats the ball down by five points with a chance to score a go-ahead touchdown.

Instead, Georgia recovered the kick and picked up a pair of first downs, leaving UK with just nine seconds for one desperation attempt at the end zone. Freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow completed a pass to La'Rod King, but the senior wide receiver was unable to lateral the ball to a teammate before he was wrapped up.

"It's tough because we see what we can do playing 60 minutes," Raymond Sanders said. "Playing 60 minutes of football we can compete with the best. A lot of the guys are down. We wanted this win badly."

If the cliche that winning and losing always comes down to running the ball and stopping the run were always true, the Cats would have blown out the Bulldogs. UK held a Georgia team that was averaging 226.5 rushing yards a game and had two backs averaging more than seven yards a carry to just 77 yards on 32 attempts, or 2.4 yards per carry.

"The positives are we held the rushing down, got better on third down (Georgia was 5 for 12 on third down and 1 for 6 after halftime)," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "We don't take any solace in losing. That's where the buck stops, but this is a team that averaged (41.3 points) a game so we knew we were uphill."

The reason why Georgia has been so good offensively this season is their balance, but the Cats knocked it completely out of whack on Saturday night. However, star junior quarterback Aaron Murray responded with the best statistical game of his career. He threw for four touchdowns and a career-high 427 yards on 30-of-38 passing.

"We took some shots," Minter said. "They attacked our quarters coverage. We're a cover four team in certain respects and they know how to do it."

A young Kentucky secondary got even younger when senior cornerback Cartier Rice exited in the first half after aggravating a strained hip flexor. Freshmen like Cody Quinn, Zack Blaylock and Fred Tiller showed flashes with some big stops on third down, but Murray consistently took advantage of their inexperience with pump fakes and shots down the field. Wide receivers Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell combined for 18 catches, 291 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"You'd love to be sitting around here talking about kids who played years," Minter said. "We're talking about guys who have played days and now weeks and now two games."

From the freshmen to the seniors, there was no fear and certainly no quit on the part of the Wildcats. UK's best four-quarter performance of the season may have fallen short, but the Cats have now seen what it looks like when they play the way they're capable of from start to finish.

"It's tough to take, but a lot of positives came out of this," Smith said. "I think this team is finally understanding, a lot of these young guys especially, how they can play if we come together."

Smith now knows he won't be playing in a bowl game to cap his time as a Wildcat, but he isn't closing the book on his Kentucky career.

"It's tough being a senior knowing I'm not going to make it to a bowl in my final season, but there's still a lot to play for," Smith said. "We're still trying to make some noise in the SEC with the games we have left."

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