Vaught's Views: Cats' inconsistency was their one constant in disappointing season

November 30, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Kentucky's final game of Rich Brooks' first season perfectly illustrated all that was good and bad this year.

The Wildcats got a valiant defensive effort and had more than enough chances to score ample points to beat Tennessee for the first time since 1984. However, in a season filled with missed chances and mistakes, the Cats once again played just well enough to keep a game close and lost 20-7 to No. 7 Tennessee.

A team that so desperately wanted to go to a bowl game instead finished the season 4-8. Instead of a winning season, the Cats will spend the offseason thinking about the blown 21-3 fourth-quarter lead to Florida, the seven-overtime loss to Arkansas, and failed chances to win close games against Louisville, South Carolina and Alabama.

"The good news is that we are competitive, but the bad news is that we are not able to finish games," said Brooks. "I'm proud of our defense and proud of how hard the defense played. But we came up short again."


"A win today would have made everything so much better for our senior class," senior center Nick Seitze said. "We had our chances, too. That's what makes it hurt so much more."

Kentucky led 7-3 at halftime, but should have had a sizeable advantage. Twice the defense gave the UK offense the ball inside Tennessee territory. Both times UK squandered the opportunity by throwing interceptions. Brooks said quarterback Jared Lorenzen just threw an "ill-advised" pass that got picked off, but two plays before he also had a pass dropped in the end zone by Chris Bernard.

Another time the defense gave the UK offense the ball at the Kentucky 45-yard line. It didn't matter because the drive stalled. Same with the second-half possession that started at midfield.

"When you get the ball with that field position, you've got to get some points," Brooks said.

The Cats were hurting before the game started. Senior offensive tackle Antonio Hall missed the first game of his career because of a concussion. Senior receiver-return specialist Derek Abney played just three plays - all punt returns. His 33-yard return in the first quarter did give him the yard he needed to become the first Division I-A player ever to have 2,000 yards receiving, 2,000 yards in kickoff returns and 1,000 yard in punt returns.

Several others played hurt, and receiver Tommy Cook and tackle Matt Huff each suffered a broken fibula during the second half. Bernard was also temporarily knocked out of the game in the second half after taking a big hit.

That partially explains why UK's offense was so inept after the first quarter. Kentucky had six first downs and 86 total yards in the first quarter when it kept the ball for almost 11 minutes. The rest of the game UK had eight first downs and 101 yards and kept the ball just 15 minutes the final three periods.

"It's not like what were doing this year was ill-suited for our players," Brooks said. "A lot of people tried to paint that picture, but it's not true.

"When we tried to throw today without getting (the ball) out quickly, we could not protect our quarterback. Part was due to the fact that Tennessee's defense is pretty good. They were physical, fast, big. They've got all the weapons."

Kentucky doesn't, especially on offense. No consistent running game. No solid tight end. No dominant offensive linemen. Inconsistency at quarterback.

Brooks and his staff need to share some blame, too. Lorenzen and backup quarterback Shane Boyd both had to waste a timeout in the first half to avoid a delay of game penalty. Another time UK got an illegal substitution penalty - after a timeout.

Those are inexcusable mistakes for a Southeastern Conference team in the 12th game of the season. Can you imagine coaches Chuck Smith of Boyle County or Sam Harp of Danville tolerating those mistakes?

Yet UK could have won Saturday because of its young defense. Tennessee had just 270 yards and was only 5-for-15 on third down conversions. The final touchdown came with just 1:27 to play when the defense was worn out because the Kentucky offense could not stay on the field the last three quarters.

Don't blame several questionable officiating calls. Those are part of UK football - just like they are for other programs that don't win consistently.

Winning teams make plays to overcome adversity. Kentucky doesn't have the talent to do that yet. Tennessee did and that's why it won a game Saturday without playing its best game.

"I loved playing here and have great memories of this place," Kentucky senior defensive tackle Jeremy Caudill said. "But there have been a lot of letdowns, too, a lot of games we should have won and didn't."

And that was the one constant in this inconsistent season for Kentucky.

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