Kentucky freshman running back Josh Clemons is out for the season after undergoing surgery on a torn knee meniscus Tuesday morning, head coach Joker Phillips announced.
Clemons had 69 carries for 279 yards, two touchdowns and was averaging 4.3 yards per carry through six games. He led UK (2-4, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) in all of those categories.
He entered the season as the No. 2 back behind sophomore Raymond Sanders, but ascended to the starting role when Sanders underwent knee surgery before the Louisville game on Sept. 15.
Sanders returned for the first time against South Carolina on Saturday, running four times for 8 yards.
Clemons carried just four times for 10 yards, all of which came in the first half of the 54-3 loss to the Gamecocks
He was held out of the second half as coaches noticed he came up gimpy.
"During the game, he never told me he was hurt but I knew he was," running backs coach Steve Pardue said. "I could tell by how he was carrying himself. I really thought it was his hamstring. He's the kind of guy, he's a tough kid, he's not going to complain, but I knew."
Clemons was examined by trainers on Sunday and underwent an MRI on Monday, confirming the diagnosis. It's believed to be the first major injury of Clemons' career.
"He was disappointed," Pardue said. "Football is really important to him."
Kentucky's next four running backs after Clemons combined for 64 yards, fewer than Clemons had on his own. Sanders is second on the team among running backs with 25 carries and is expected to return to the starting lineup. He has 105 rushing yards this year.
Sophomore Jonathan George has 18 carries for 54 yards and junior CoShik Williams has 17 carries for 62 yards. Redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer has four carries for six yards. Clemons is the only running back to score a touchdown for the Wildcats this season. He also led all running backs with four receptions for 53 yards.
"I feel like God always does everything for a reason," Sanders said. "He just has to stay strong and everyone has to push him and help him through it like they helped me through it. He knows I'm going to be there for him."
Phillips said freshman tailback Marcus Caffey, who is redshirting this season, would probably not play at this point. That leaves Sanders, Williams and George as the primary candidates to replace Clemons' production.
Losing Clemons hurts an offense that already was ranked 119th out of 120 FBS teams. Kentucky is averaging 110 yards per game on the ground through six games.
Clemons' 87-yard touchdown run in a Sept. 10 victory over Central Michigan was the third-longest rushing play in UK history and the longest ever for a freshman.
"Obviously, we thought (Clemons) was doing the best job," Pardue said. "We were starting him. That tells you what we thought of him."
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