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October 24, 2011There are some running backs everyone knows about. Marquee names like Marcus Lattimore and Trent Richardson can be the face of their team and the engine to power an offense. There are others who slice through defenses with speed that would make track coaches drool.
Then there is Mississippi State tailback Vick Ballard. He's not fast, and he's not one of the better known players in the Southeastern Conference, but he's still lethal.
"Big-time back," Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said of Ballard. "Doesn't seem to be a big guy but he runs real physical. Presses blocks. Protects the football."
Sophomore defensive tackle Donte Rumph said Ballard is one of the most underrated players in the SEC. In 2010, he ran for 968 yards and a whopping 19 touchdowns. He's powering the Bulldog offense again in 2011, leading the team with 598 yards and five touchdowns.
Ballard isn't the only threat the UK defense will have to be prepared for on Saturday. Bulldog quarterback Chris Relf is a dual-threat who has burned the Wildcats in previous seasons.
"They have a good duo back there," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "It's nothing to joke around with."
Even though Mississippi State (3-4, 0-4 SEC) is tied with Ole Miss for last place in the SEC West, they've played strong at times. They lost a gritty game against No. 1 LSU 19-6 and fell to Auburn by one score in a 41-34 shootout. Both teams will be looking for their first conference win, and whichever team loses faces a difficult road to a bowl game. Mississippi State still has games against Alabama and Arkansas left on its schedule.
"We won't be talking about them being a desperate team," Phillips said. "We'll be talking about getting our second season to 2-0."
The running game could be key for both teams on Saturday. UK ran for a season-high 340 yards in Saturday's win, controlling the clock while scoring 38 points. Ballard and Relf will face a Wildcat defense that has struggled at times, but has had more success against power running games than shifty or speedy tailbacks.
"(Mississippi State) just lines up and runs it at you," Rumph said.
The defense also had the chance to rest thanks to three turnovers and a handful of sustained drives by the offense. Repeating that by establishing the run game on offense can help give the defense a break.
"I think you saw last week what our defense can do when they're fresh," Phillips said. "Keeping those guys off the field is done by running efficiently and moving the chains."
Neloms, Burden in exclusive company
Junior safety Martavius Neloms, who returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown against Jacksonville State on Saturday, became the first UK player to score on a fumble return since Ventrell Jenkins did it against East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl after the 2008 season.
Senior corner Randall Burden, who returned an interception for a touchdown in 2009 against Louisiana-Monroe, is the only other player on UK's current roster to score a defensive touchdown. Stalwarts such as linebacker Danny Trevathan and safety/linebacker Winston Guy haven't recorded a score in their career.
"I have to tell (Trevathan) that," Neloms said. "He needs to get up there with us."
Sophomore tailback Raymond Sanders, who returned against Jacksonville State after missing four games, is doubtful for this weekend with a high ankle sprain. He carried the ball twice against the Gamecocks for 10 yards before leaving the game.
"It's an injury where you don't have any swelling, but it takes a week or so before you can run," Phillips said.
Sanders previously underwent knee surgery on Sept. 15. Freshman tailback Josh Clemons who started in his absence, is out for the season.
Sophomore defensive tackle Mister Cobble will be held out of practice Tuesday but is expected to go Wednesday and Thursday. He has a bruised shoulder.
Sophomore kicker Joe Mansour injured his kicking ankle. Fullback D.J. Warren will be limited in contact drills this week, but is expected to play.
Junior defensive end Collins Ukwu, who played six snaps on Saturday for the first time since suffering a sprained ankle, should be available again this week. Mike Douglas is expected to start in his place again.