‘Electric' Hawkins big order for UK's defense

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- When Bobby Petrino was fired following last year's 2-10 season and Scott Satterfield was hired last December, there may have been no happier Louisville football player than freshman running back Javian Hawkins.


After all, Hawkins had been in exile most of the season after losing a fumble on his second career carry in a 66-31 loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 5. He didn't touch the ball the rest of the year, but at least the lack of playing did preserve his redshirt.


Given new life and a clean slate under Satterfield's staff, Hawkins has not only been excellent at ball security, but has run to an historic season, becoming UofL's first 1,000-yard rusher in nine years.


So the 5-foot-9, 182-pound native of Titusville, Fla., will be a key focus of Kentucky's proud defense in the Governor's Cup high noon showdown at Kroger Field on Saturday. The Wildcats have allowed opponents to average just 146.4 yards rushing per game, while Hawkins alone is generating 116.2 yards per game.


Hawkins is coming off a career-best 233 yards rushing in last Saturday's 56-34 rout of Syracuse that boosted his season total to 1,278 yards, a U of L freshman record and the most for a Cardinal running back since Anthony Allen gained 275 against Middle Tennessee in 2007. U of L hadn't produced a 1,000-yard rusher since Bilal Powell gained 1,405 in 2010, with a career-best 153 of those yards coming in a 23-16 loss to the Wildcats.


On the national level, Hawkins ranks No. 11 in rushing yardage. Only one freshman, Kenny Gainwell of Memphis, ranks ahead of him with 16 yards more.


"I didn't even know I had that many yards but trusting the boys up front like they do me every week, and we get the job done," Hawkins said after his record-breaking performance against Syracuse.


Following his 44-yard TD in the final minutes of the win over the Orange in UofL's home finale, Hawkins was flagged for excessive celebration. But if he scores against UK, he admits that he might draw a penalty again.


"You got to live it up, right?" he said. "You got to enjoy the game, make sure you live it to the fullest."


Hawkins has certainly been doing that with his deadly blend of inside power and outside speed and elusiveness. Running backs coach Norval McKenzie calls him "electric." Satterfield describes him as "explosive" and "powerful."


Everyone marvels at his ability to chew up yardage despite his lack of size.


"He's a little bit undersized, but he makes up for that with his grit and his fight," Satterfield said.


Hawkins is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, second-best in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and he has also averaged 18.0 yards on 11 receptions, with a touchdown.


The new Louisville coaching staff knew they had inherited something special when they got their first look at Hawkins during spring practice in February.


"He had some great flashes," U of L offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford said. "There were time when he took the ball and you just went, 'wow.' It wasn't just his moves outside, but to be his size he is a powerful runner. Hawk isn't the biggest guy on the field, but he runs as big as anybody I've ever been around. Every time he touches the ball, he goes at it like he's got something to prove.


"He just plays so hard. He's a physical, downhill runner, but at the same time he's got speed where he can get outside and make things happen in the open field. I think he's a very special back who's got a lot of tools. It's fun being around him because of his competitiveness, how he works. I know the guys up front love him. He gets those guys up front going.


Hawkins has avoided serious injuries and of course benefits from UofL's run-oriented offense -- in five of Satterfield's six seasons as head coach at Appalachian State, the Mountaineers boasted a 1,000-yard rusher and were among the nation's rushing leaders as a team.


"For us, with the hits those guys take, staying healthy, staying on top of their bodies, being on top of your game and not letting little nicks and injuries affect your performance is important and Hawk's done a great job with that all season," Ledford says.


Hawkins believes another reason for his effectiveness is that the Cards also have big-play weapons in the passing game, led by quarterback Micale Cunningham and wide receiver Tutu Atwell.


Atwell's 1,072 receiving yards (with 11 touchdowns and an 18.8-yard average per catch) gives Louisville a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver for the first time since running back Frank Moreau (1,289) and wideout Arnold Jackson (1,209) in 1999. As a dual threat, Cunningham has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,708 yards and 19 TDs and has run for 374 yards and six scores.


All of which means UK won't be able to load the box with the goal of containing Hawkins.


"We open it up with the pass and then the holes start opening up everything," Hawkins said. "It starts flowing and people start making plays and then everything starts clicking."


If U of L's offense is clicking against UK Saturday, you can bet that Hawkins will be in the middle of the action.

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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