Kentucky will not have All-SEC running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. available when it opens the season at home against Miami (Ohio), coach Mark Stoops said during his Monday press conference. The senior is one of several players who will likely serve a multi-game suspension, though the specific length of Rodriguez's absence was not revealed. Senior outside linebacker Jordan Wright was also among the suspended players named.
"A few of them will have multiple-game suspensions but I don't know how long. I suspect one will be back next week," Stoops said, per 247Sports.
The suspension isn't a necessarily a surprise. Rodriguez wasin May and has another unresolved incident, according to 247Sports, the details of which have not been made public.
Rodriguez has 2,379 yards rushing and 27 rushing touchdowns in four seasons with the Wildcats. He finished second in the SEC with 106.08 yards per game last season and was one of only two players in the conference to average more than 100 yards per game on the ground. He is sixth all-time on Kentucky's list of career rushers and needs a little more than 1,100 yards to become the program's all-time leader in that category, passing Benny Snell.
Fellow senior Kavosiey Smoke will likely slide into the role of feature back on Saturday and throughout Rodriguez's absence. Smoke has 1,306 yards on the ground and 12 rushing touchdowns in his four-year career. His best season came in 2019 when he gained 616 yards on the ground and scored six times. The Wildcats also have Sam Houston transfer Ramon Jefferson as an option after he rushed for 1,155 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
"We have great depth at that position. Our expectations are to go play at that level," Stoops said. "[Rodriguez] is a remarkable young man, he's a great leader on this team and he's a great football player. We have others, and guys will step up and they'll compete and we'll play and we won't miss a beat."
The length of Rodriguez's suspension is concerning; a multi-game absence would keep him out of Kentucky's SEC opener in Week 2 at Florida. The Gators have topped the Wildcats in 33 of their last 35 meetings, and the winner of the Week 2 matchup will set the tone for the landscape in the SEC East as the biggest threat to defending national champion Georgia.