Vaught's Views: Despite easy win, questions still loom

September 08, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - In what was scheduled to be a feel-good game for Kentucky, there was a lot more to like about the Wildcats Saturday.

There was quarterback Jared Lorenzen throwing two near-perfect passes for touchdowns in the first half and becoming UK's all-time passing leader by surpassing Tim Couch's record.

There was return specialist Derek Abney ripping through the defense to keep Kentucky in good field position.

There was the UK defense - led by end Vincent Burns' three tackles for losses in the first half - making far more big plays than it did in its season-opening loss to Louisville.

But this was against Division I-AA Murray State, not a much more potent Southeastern Conference opponent like UK will face in eight of its remaining 10 games.


That's why Saturday's 37-6 win over the Racers still left plenty of questions about the Wildcats and what their fate will be the rest of coach Rich Brooks' first season.

"I thought we did some very good stuff, but we also made a lot of mistakes that we have to correct," Brooks said.

This was a game Kentucky needed to dominate for its own morale after being handled so easily by Louisville to start the season. Instead, UK failed to score on its first two possessions and had to resort to a fake punt to get its initial first down.

In the first half, UK rushed for only 46 yards on 19 carries, an average of only 2.4 yards per try. For the game the Cats gained only 103 yards on 31 carries, and 57 of those yards were by Shane Boyd in his role as quarterback-tailback.

Those yards came against a defense that won't be nearly as big, fast or strong as the one the Cats will see at Alabama in their next game, and even Murray was missing its top defensive lineman because of an injury.

The mistakes were plentiful, too. Kentucky was penalized seven times for 68 yards - in the first half - and continued to miss far too many tackles. Overall, UK was penalized 13 times for 119 yards.

"I'm disgusted with the penalties, especially the four personal fouls," Brooks said. "That's unacceptable for this team."

Still, the Cats were way too much for Murray thanks to Lorenzen, who was 14-for-21 passing for 197 yards and four touchdowns. He came into the game needing just 67 yards to surpass Couch's career mark of 8,435 yards.

It was only fitting that Lorenzen broke the record on a play that showed both his talent and poise. He caught Murray jumping offsides, an automatic sign for a deep throw. Wide receiver Chris Bernard got a step on the secondary, Lorenzen lofted a perfect pass that Bernard caught and the receiver turned it into a 60-yard score in period two to give UK a 14-0 lead.

"That was something we work on a lot," Bernard said. "I knew if I got open, Jared would get me the ball. He's too good not to make that play."

"We got a cheap touchdown because we kept playing and Murray didn't," Brooks said.

Lorenzen's throw to Abney for the first score was just as good. This time he fired an 11-yard pass that showcased his arm strength. He put it just over one defender where Abney could make an easy leaping catch for an 11-yard score.

"The big guy is amazing," Abney said. "If he just gets time, he's going to get you the ball. Our offense is not crisp yet, but it is coming and you could see Jared getting more comfortable as the game went on."

Murray coach Joe Pannunzio certainly is a Lorenzen backer.

"Jared Lorenzen is a helluva quarterback," the Murray coach said. "He made some great throws, and I don't know how a guy that big moves like that. He has escapability that is unbelievable."

Lorenzen wasn't overly interested in talking about the record, even though he readily admits that Couch is his all-time favorite UK player and that breaking his records have always been his goal. Instead, he was more pleased that Kentucky overcame its sluggish start and numerous mistakes to win.

"We still believe we can go to a bowl game, but if we didn't win this game, that was not going to happen," Lorenzen said. "We're better than what we played against Louisville. We're better than what we played tonight. But at least we got a win and that's what counts the most."

But do the Wildcats really believe they can go to Alabama and win based on the way they've played these first two games?

"We better believe, because if you don't, you have no chance to win," Burns said. "We're going to get better and as far as I'm concerned, there's no better way for us to prove that than by going to Alabama and winning."

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