Vaught's Views: Key penalty turned tide to Florida's side

September 28, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

It would be easy to blame one ill-advised pass by Jared Lorenzen for enabling Florida to pull out a dramatic 24-21 win over Kentucky Saturday.

However, blaming Lorenzen's interception for the loss would be as wrong as thinking Kentucky is cursed when it comes to football.

The Cats had a 21-16 lead when Lorenzen was about to be sacked late in the game. Instead of taking the loss, Lorenzen tried to scramble away and throw a pass to Derek Abney. It's something he's done successfully numerous times during his UK career. This time he should have accepted the loss because Johnny Lamar easily intercepted the pass and returned it 35 yards to the one-yard line to set up the winning score.

A mental miscue much earlier, though, is the reason UK blew a 21-3 lead and lost to Florida for the 17th straight time. It wasn't because of Lorenzen's interception. It was not even the holding call that wiped out an 86-yard Derek Abney punt return for a touchdown in the first half. It was not the 50-yard field goal that Taylor Begley missed that could have tied the game in the final minute. It wasn't even the ghosts of past UK bitter losses.


No, this loss could be attributed to simple math - or lack of it.

The Cats had a 21-3 lead late in period three when they stopped the Gators at their own 25-yard line.

With the way Kentucky offense had consistently moved the football and the UK defense had stymied Florida, it looked like the game was over.

Then Kentucky committed a huge no-no on the punt return, one far worse than the penalty which kept Abney from returning his first kick for a score this season.

The Wildcats had T-W-E-L-V-E players on the field.

Instead of UK having the ball at its own 20-yard line, Florida got the ball back thanks to the 15-yard penalty at its own 40.

For Kentucky, that was the start of the end because the Gators went to on score to begin their 21-point fourth quarter onslaught.

That's a mistake that never should happen at a big-time college football program.

Apparently defensive end Vincent Burns was supposed to come off the field rather than stay on the punt return team as normal because he was not 100 percent physically. The problem was that either someone forgot to tell Burns or he refused to come out.

Either way, that left Kentucky with 12 players on the field - and no one noticed. Surely someone should have been counting players. Surely someone hould have noticed the extra player and called a timeout.

"To me, the game turned on a 12-men on the field penalty," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said.

"One of our players made a mistake and stayed on the field."

That boo-boo spoiled a brilliant overall effort by the Wildcats.

Lorenzen was 18-for-27 passing for 179 yards and helped the Cats amass 354 yards of total offense and consistently pick up yardage, including 47 yards and three touchdown on 18 carries by Arliss Beach.

The defense played its best game of the season and limited the Gators to just 93 yards rushing and forced three turnovers.

Those numbers should have been enough for UK to finally beat Florida and possibly cost second-year Florida coach Ron Zook his job.

This would have been the signature win that UK coach Rich Brooks needed to put his stamp on the UK program five games into his tenure - and justified his hiring to many who are still skeptical.

It would have been the win that could have vaulted UK to a bowl game and partially wiped out so many painful memories of past losses for the Big Blue faithful.

Instead, not being able to count to 12 and avoiding a penalty started a Florida comeback that may turn out to be a season-wrecking blow for this team.

Just when it looked like offensive coordinator Ron Hudson was starting to get his unit going and defensive coordinator Mike Archer was finding a way to stop foes, the Cats let a mental error turn into a heartbreaking loss.

Sure, Kentucky still could have won the game. But if not for the penalty on the punt return that gave the ball back to Florida, this game would have been over and Lorenzen's poor decision on the interception would have been a moot point.

Larry Vaught can be reached at

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