"He played good. He got the ball in the end zone. He made some big-time runs. Both backs (Russell and CoShik Williams) made some runs and they missed some runs, but he did what he had to do in this game. That is to hang on to the football and possess the ball at the end of each run and get positive yards," said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips.
It was a bit of a tumultuous week for Russell. He started the season No. 2 behind senior Derrick Locke, but was demoted to third team behind Raymond Sanders when UK opened Southeastern Conference play at Florida. However, after Locke was hurt against Auburn, Sanders started against South Carolina and Georgia before losing his spot after a fumble in the loss to Georgia. When he barely played at Mississippi State, his mother, Tanya, expressed concerns over what had happened and made a trip to Lexington Tuesday to see Phillips.
"It was a situation where everybody took it out of hand. It was nothing harmful towards anybody," Russell, who also scored on a 17-yard run in the fourth quarter, said. "I still practiced hard, I still prepared hard on what I had to do, and I just played really hard."
He also started because Locke decided his shoulder was still not sufficiently healed for him to play and missed his fourth straight game.
"He just didn't feel like he could protect the football and also protect himself. Locke really wants to play, but Locke really doesn't want to hurt this football team also," Phillips said. Russell wants to make sure everyone knows his mother wasn't trying to hurt the team, either. She said she only wanted to know what had happened and that she was not interested in having her son transfer, a point Russell felt many failed to notice.
"It was just questions and answers. Everybody thought she was trying to start a commotion with Coach, but it was nothing like that at all. She just wanted answers and she respected his opinion. Me and coaches are on the same page and wanting to win, so everything is okay," Russell said.
"Everybody thought we were on different pages about everything, but once I knew he and I were on the same page, I didn't have to worry about anything else."
He hoped Phillips would respect that his mother flew from Florida to Lexington to voice her concerns personally — and he said Phillips did respect that.
"It just shows how serious she was and how strong our connection is. She paid a lot of money just to come talk to him, and they respected that a lot," Russell said.