Small RBs playing big for Wildcats, Hilltoppers
Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan saw running back Derrick Locke dart through the hole during one practice this summer and waited for the shifty 5-foot-9 speedster to sprint for the sidelines.
Heading out of harm's way is so last year.
Instead of darting for safety, Locke dipped his shoulder and tried to split the ''22'' in Trevathan's jersey. The move surprised Trevathan, who has four inches and 25 pounds on his teammate. Locke's legs kept churning until well after the whistle blew.
''We have some battles out there,'' Trevathan said.
And these days, Locke wins more than he probably should.
While developing a reputation as a home-run threat during three sometimes spectacular, but often injury plagued years, the senior is trying to become the kind of polished all-around back the Wildcats have lacked since Rafael Little left following the 2007 season.
Locke showed flashes of both during Kentucky's season-opening 23-16 win over Louisville, piling up 104 yards and two touchdowns as the Wildcats rolled over their rivals.
He scored on a dazzling 32-yard run on his first carry of the season, spinning past a Cardinal defender so effortlessly it looked like a video game. Late in the fourth quarter with Kentucky holding a tenuous seven-point lead, he picked up five tough yards for the decisive first down that let the Wildcats run out the clock.
He handled the ball 27 times in all, including three receptions and a kickoff return, a sure sign the cracked bone in his left forearm sustained during a mo-ped accident in the offseason is long gone.
''I feel like I can handle a few runs back-to-back-to-back,'' he said. ''I want to be out there first and make big plays but I'm not going to try to be Superman.''
Maybe not, but Locke won't be the only little back trying to make big plays on Saturday when the Wildcats (1-0) host Western Kentucky (0-1).
Hilltoppers running back Bobby Rainey is coming off a career-high 155 yards and a touchdown on 30 wearying carries in a 49-10 loss to then-No. 8 Nebraska.
Coach Willie Taggart just laughed when asked if he was trying to punish the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Rainey by sending him so frequently into the teeth of a defense that's regularly among the nation's best.
''That's a bunch of baloney,'' Taggart said. ''He gets it done. That wasn't the plan to be honest with you, but if that's what it takes to win a ballgame, we'll do it.''
And Rainey will gladly accept the challenge.
''I felt like I was back in high school,'' Rainey said. ''I just have to keep pushing.''
To keep the undersized WKU defense off the field, Rainey might not have a choice. Taggart didn't intend to give Rainey the ball so often. Once he saw how effective Rainey was at extending drives, Taggart simply kept at it.
It left his star pretty sore on Sunday. By Monday Rainey was already asking for the ball again. It's the kind of competitiveness Taggart loves, the same kind he saw in former Stanford star Toby Gerhart, who Taggart mentored while serving as running backs coach for the Cardinal before returning to his alma mater.
''Bobby's really patient, he allows his blocks to happen before he makes his cuts and runs fast through the hole,'' Taggart said. ''That is kind of where he's similar to Toby. And he's stronger than you think. The first guy usually doesn't tackle him.''
That's not exactly good news for the Wildcats, who gave up 190 yards rushing to Louisville last week, including an 80-yard touchdown run by Bilal Powell.
''We just got to wrap him up,'' said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips. ''We can't let him get started because he's got that type of speed.''
That goes double for the Hilltoppers. WKU surrendered 289 yards on the ground against the Cornhuskers, and Locke has the speed to match anyone in Nebraska's talented backfield.
''That guy can run,'' Taggart said with a whistle.
Especially now that he's healthy. Locke's sophomore season was cut short by a knee injury, and though he led Kentucky with 907 yards rushing last year, he admits the fear of getting hurt again was always out there.
When he'd get hit, he'd immediately think ''please tackle me.''
''I did that a lot last year,'' Locke said. ''That can't happen this year.''
It's why he tried to show Trevathan what he was made of during camp. He did it again against the Cardinals, grinding out the tough yards when the easy ones weren't there.
''He'd step on people's feet, he was trying to get more yards than what usually does,'' said fullback Moncell Allen. ''He's a small guy but he's got a big heart like he's one of the big backs.''