Vaught's Views: Wildcats get win they needed

September 19, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - When is the Outback Bowl?

Well, maybe that's a question Kentucky fans and players can't be asking just yet, but Saturday's 51-32 win over Indiana certainly breathed new life into a program that desperately needed it.

After managing only 238 yards of total offense against Louisville, Kentucky turned into an offensive juggernaut against Indiana. By halftime the Wildcats not only had 306 yards, but they also had 27 points - or 27 more than they did the entire game against Louisville just two weeks ago and more than some might have thought the Cats would score all season.

The Wildcats finished the game with 560 total yards (the most in coach Rich Brooks' 13 games at Kentucky), including 355 rushing, and beat Indiana for the ninth time in the last 10 years, an indicator the Cats might want to do all they can to make sure the series doesn't end next year as it is now scheduled to do.


"I am so thrilled for our young men to come out and have some fun. This is not something to solve all our wounds, but it helps," said Brooks. "If a few things start working, it makes it easier on everybody."

Perhaps the best indicator that this Kentucky team had made huge progress since its loss to Louisville came early in the third quarter. After Indiana had forced a fumble by UK quarterback Shane Boyd and returned it four yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 27-24, the Cats responded with a six-play, 80-yard scoring drive.

The touchdown came on a 19-yard pass to Scott Mitchell. Boyd saw Indiana positioned for a blitz, called the proper audible and Mitchell turned a short throw into a scoring pass after breaking a tackle at the 14-yard line.

It was a call and play Kentucky could not have made against Louisville. But just as offensive coordinator Ron Hudson had predicted, UK's offense was much, much better against an Indiana defense that was not nearly as athletic as Louisville's defense.

"The thing to me that was impressive was the way we answered almost everything they threw at us tonight," Brooks said. "That is something our team has not always done very well."

The Wildcats got a needed infusion of offense from freshman running back Tony Dixon. He had a 67-yard scoring run in the first half - UK's longest run by a true freshman since Derick Logan's 70-yard run in 1996 and longest overall since Chad Scott's 67-yard run in 2001 - and provided speed along with 105 yards rushing on nine carries.

The second half another true freshman, Rafael Little, got his chance to shine and responded with 33 yards rushing.

"It was some needed speed and we had better blocking, too. They did some very good things," Brooks said. "I was very encouraged with the play of the backs but they had some help, too."

Biggest difference was playcalling, blocking

However, the biggest difference was the playcalling and blocking that gave Boyd a chance to showcase his running skills. He was able to get into the open field with runs off quarterback draws or option plays and scored on runs of 13 and 9 yards.

Hudson went to more sets that spread the field and also used screen passes and reverses to keep the Indiana offense off balance.

That enabled Boyd to pick the Hoosiers apart with his running and passing, which was far more accurate than in the season-opening loss. Boyd finished with 130 yards rushing and 205 yards passing. He ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more and provided the perfect field leader for Hudson's offense.

"Shane did some really outstanding things. He missed a couple of passes that would have made it an even more special game," the Kentucky coach said. "He did some amazing things with the ball in his hands as well as with his feet. He threw some nice passes. He played a very good game and had excellent control of the offense as well.

It was far from a perfect game for the Wildcats. They fumbled three times in the first half, but recovered them all. The defense allowed scoring drives of 75 and 70 yards to start the game and later gave up touchdown passes of 64 and 49 yards. Overall, the defense gave up 412 yards and way too many big plays to be able to stop the Southeastern Conference offenses they'll face starting with the next game at Florida.

"One thing we have been able to do on defense is not give up big plays, but we gave up several. We need to address that," Brooks said.

But it was a win this team desperately needed to restore confidence in what Brooks and his staff are doing.

"If you wanted excitement, you got it tonight. Who can complain about the excitement tonight?" Brooks asked.

Absolutely no one can because at least in this game, Kentucky found a way to utitlize the talent it has and win a game it had to have to salvage any hope for a respectable season.

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