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With past behind him, Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez ready to become a regular contributor

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Chris Rodriguez is ready to become a regular contributor after sitting our four of Kentucky’s first five games.

The veteran running back made his season debut in a 22-19 loss at Mississippi last Saturday. He rushed for 72 yards on 19 carries and added three catches for 40 yards in the narrow loss. Rodriguez sat out the first four games because of a suspension related to off-the-field issues last summer.

“It felt great to get out there and knock the rust off a little bit,” he said. “Now, I’m ready.”

Chris Rodriguez makes a gain in Kentucky’s 22-19 loss at Mississippi last Saturday. (UK Athletics Photo)

Rodriguez admitted he had to make adjustments in his first game since last season,, dating back to Kentucky’s win over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl.

“I forgot what it felt like to get hit,” Rodriguez said. “But with my playing style, I couldn’t wait to feel that again.”

Kentucky offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello got his first live glance of Rodriguez against outside competition and wasn’t disappointed with his running back’s outing against the Rebels.

“I knew what he was, but to see it live, he’s just one of physical guys who has great feel,” Scangarello said. “Overall, I just like his demeanor and everything about him. He’s just such a good football player. He’s going to have a long career.”

Rodriguez has noticed a difference not only in the team’s offensive scheme, but the surrounding cast, notably the receivers.

“It makes it easier on me,” Rodriguez said. “They’re opening up the run game for me. We’ve got a lot of guys in that receiver corps that can go (for a touchdown) at any time. It just opens a lot more up.”

Rodriguez has enjoyed past success against South Carolina, Kentucky’s next opponent Saturday. In three games against the Gamecocks, he has rushed for 248 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for 144 yards last season.

“Not in particular — nothing toward them,” he said. “That was the first time I actually played a lot (my freshman year), I think that was my first touchdown, against South Carollina a few years ago.”

South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said the return of Rodriguez gives the Wildcats another dimension.

“I feel like they’re running it this year as well,” he said. “Maybe in some people’s minds they are having some trouble running the ball. …. They’ve got the same quarterback and even more dynamic receivers, but then you bring Chris Rodriguez back … Getting Rodriguez back will certainly help them run the football. They haven’t all of a sudden turned into a passing offense.”

Gametracker: South Carolina at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com and via Twitter at keithtaylor21

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