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November 25, 2013

Cats suspend leading rusher for season finale

Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders will miss the team's season finale on Saturday due to a violation of team rules, effectively ending his UK career.

Sanders, a senior and the Wildcats' leading rusher, will not play against the Volunteers, a week after there was speculation about his status with the team, including a report that he'd been dismissed.

"We were working through a couple things last week, where you all heard this or that; I know I got a couple questions on it," coach Mark Stoops said. "We got some more information back today and it firmed up our decision with what to do with him on Saturday."

Sanders is not dismissed from the team, Stoops said, though with only one game left, his career is finished.

Stoops said he received information regarding Sanders "about an hour" before his regular Monday news conference and hadn't yet determined if Sanders would be permitted to participate in Senior Day festivities Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

"Disappointed," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "I think that'd be the best term to use."

Sanders rushed for 1,542 yards in his career. He'll finish in 16th place on UK's all-time rushing list. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns. This season, Sanders has carried 107 times for 464 yards and three touchdowns.

"I've sat in here and bragged on him throughout the year," Stoops said. "And it doesn't change my opinion of Raymond. I think he's a good person. I am disappointed in a few decisions that he made, but he's a good person. He was a good person for this program. Let's not let this define him. I am disappointed. It is unacceptable. He will not play. And that's really all I want to say."

Phillips sits
Quarterback Jalen Whitlow is dealing with neck spasms in addition to his lingering shoulder problems, and his status for Saturday's game will be determined during the week.

If Whitlow can't go, Kentucky will play Maxwell Smith who's also banged up. The Wildcats don't intend to take the redshirt off freshman Reese Phillips, though Stoops admitted he considered doing so when Whitlow went down in the first quarter of last Saturday's loss at Georgia.

Stoops said it "wouldn't have been a wise decision," but he was "a little bit frustrated and thinking about it."

UK's quarterback play this season has been underwhelming and with Phillips and Patrick Towles on the bench, fans and coaches have wondered is one of the two could be the answer.

The Cats' staff made it clear Towles wouldn't be, but Phillips has been listed as a backup other times this season when Smith or Whitlow were injured.

"And part of me, as I said earlier in other press conferences, I would've liked to have seen Reese just to see where we're going, what he had in a game," Stoops said. "You see it in practice and all those things, but again that wouldn't have been a wise decision."

Phillips is a pro-style quarterback from Signal Mountain, Tenn. He was a three-star on Rivals and picked UK over offers from Memphis, Middle Tennessee State and Mississippi State.

"I think we made the right decision…," Brown said. "The right thing to do for him, for Reese, was to leave his redshirt on. Especially for this late in the season, where we're at with the win-loss record. I think selfishly as a coaching staff, you know we'd like to see, I'd like to see what he'd do in a game, but we're going to have to wait a little bit more time to see that."

Smith will get the majority of reps early in the week, with Whitlow contributing if he can, and while the Cats hope to avoid playing Phillips if they can, there's no guarantees.

"I don't want to say never but it's not in our plans to play him," Brown said. "But we have two guys that are banged up too, so we'll be creative."

Willis sidelined
Cornerback Nate Willis was missing from Kentucky's depth chart on Monday, and Stoops said his absence is due to injury. Though Willis was cleared to play with a knee injury, UK has opted to have his knee scoped. He'll miss Saturday's game.

"Nothing major," Stoops said. "He'll be back in a few weeks."


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