The Kentucky Wildcats struggled to find a consistent rushing attack in 2015. The Wildcats ranked second-last in the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards (1,838) and No. 11 in yards per game (153.17).
Kentucky’s biggest problem was its inability to pick a starting running back. The Wildcats failed to give a single tailback more than 74 carries, while quarterback Patrick Towles led the team with 145 rushing attempts.
Freshman Stanley “Boom” Williams showed the most promise of the team’s tailbacks, despite limited action. Williams led the Wildcats with 486 yards and five touchdowns on 74 carries. The freshman outgained teammates Braylon Heard (368) and Jojo Kemp (323) by more than 100 yards, despite having just one more rushing attempt than Heard and three than Kemp.
Williams saw action at the beginning of the season, but fell behind Heard and Kemp on the depth chart. Williams provided several highlight plays in 2014, including a cutback touchdown reception in an overtime loss to Florida in Week 3.
But it took Kentucky 10 weeks to realize what it had in Williams, who made his first start against Missouri with four remaining games. During that span, Williams recorded 264 yards and three touchdowns on 44 carries.
In Week 14, the freshman lived up to his “Boom” moniker as he ran through three tackles en route to scoring a 14-yard touchdown, which was an omen to how he carried the load of Kentucky’s offense at the end of the season. Williams ended his final game with a season-best 126 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
In 2015, the Wildcats must make the rising sophomore their feature back. Williams has made a successful transition to the college game and should continue his progression in his second season.
Williams rushed for more than 100 yards three times in 2014, the most by a freshman in school history. The tailback also provided one of the few bright spots during Kentucky’s disappointing end to its season.
While Williams emerged as a potential star, his team suffered down the stretch. Kentucky opened the season at 5-1 but failed to earn bowl eligibility after losing its final six games. The losing streak coincided with Towles’ declining production as the quarterback failed to throw for more than 200 yards in five games during the losing skid.
Head coach Mark Stoops will not have the same leeway in his third season. Stoops received an extension for matching Kentucky’s win total from its past two seasons but will face higher expectations in 2015. The coach must prove the validity of the Wildcats’ hot start and show that the team is capable of finishing strong late in the season.
Williams will need to be the focal point of the ailing Kentucky offense that lacks elite SEC talent at the skill positions. The former four-star prospect showcased his potential in 2014 and should continue his emergence as a sophomore.