Vaught's Views: Wildcats' latest chance gets away

October 17, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - This was going to be just what Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and his players needed.

The Wildcats were on the verge of snapping a four-game losing streak by beating South Carolina and restoring hope that the rest of the season could at least be enjoyable.

Kentucky had driven 94 yards in 23 plays to take a 7-6 lead with only 9 minutes, 52 seconds to play. While most times that would seem to have left an eternity for South Carolina to rally and win as so many opposing teams have done in Commonwealth Stadium, this looked different.

First, South Carolina already had five turnovers and really had not consistently moved the football since the first quarter.

Second, the Gamecocks came into the game without their starting quarterback and then had Saturday's starter injured in the first half.


So what did South Carolina coach Lou Holtz do with his team trailing and just over six minutes to play? He went to fourth-team quarterback Michael Rathe, a senior who had thrown just one pass this year.

But as the Cats have done so many times over the years, they turned Rathe into a star as he directed a game-winning 88-yard touchdown drive that ended with his 19-yard scoring pass to Troy Williamson to let South Carolina escape with a 12-7 win.

Blown chances

Kentucky had chances to stop the final drive. Once South Carolina converted on fourth down. Once defensive end Vincent Burns had a pass go off his hands. But the crushing blow was a pass that safety Mike Williams dropped after it hit him in the chest.

"Obviously this is a very, very tough loss," Brooks said. "We made almost as many mistakes turning the ball over (four) as we have the last two weeks, but the good news is we took away from them and if we had done it one more time it would have been a different outcome."

Instead, it was the same outcome that has unfolded for Kentucky football way too many times.

"I think we truly believed we were going to win," said Kentucky receiver Jacob Tamme, who had three catches for 30 yards. "This hurts. We should have won. We all know that."

No matter what the Wildcats tried, it hadn't worked until the dramatic 94-yard drive that consumed almost 12 minutes and had the Cats converting six times on third down plays.

"That was a nice drive, the kind we've been wanting to have," offensive coordinator Ron Hudson said. "But so many other things happened. I don't know if we are snakebit or what."

Give Hudson credit for being more imaginative on offense even if the plays didn't work. Once, receiver Glen Holt had open space on a reverse before slipping and falling. Instead of at least a 20-yard gain, he had picked up nine yards. Tamme took a lateral from quarterback Shane Boyd, ran right, stopped and threw a long pass to the left for running back Alexis Bwenge that was intercepted.

"I read man coverage and they were in a zone. I never saw the guy," Tamme said.

"Another time we had a running back trip over the quarterback on a play that could have been a big gain," Hudson said. "What can you do?"

Taylor Begley, who had 51- and 52-yard field goals in previous games, missed badly on a 49-yard try to start the game that would have put UK on top. That's why Brooks elected not to try a 51-yard field goal after Marcus McClinton's interception gave the Cats the ball at the South Carolina 40 only five plays after their scoring drive.

" I didn't give a lot of thought to going for the field goal because we missed from 49 yards pretty badly," Brooks said. "The wind and cold air was a factor. I also thought our defense was playing pretty good. I thought we could pin them in a hole and get the ball back."

A deep hole

Instead, UK is in a deep hole. The Cats now go to Auburn, perhaps the best team in the Southeastern Conference. Games with powers Georgia and Tennessee also remain.

"The season is not over," said Boyd, who was 18-for-29 passing for 149 yards. "This is a tough loss, but we can't give up and get down on ourselves."

Brooks sensed his team gave a better overall effort and felt worse after this loss than it had in any other game this year. The Cats had 304 yards total offense against one of the SEC's better defenses and limited South Carolina to 303, including 135 in the first quarter.

"It's always tough when you lose, but I do believe our players can walk out with their heads a little higher than they could in the last several losses because they competed and tried hard," Brooks said. "There's nothing more gut-wrenching than to lose a game like we lost. The good news is they were upset, very upset, because they knew it was a game they could have had."

That might sound trite, but it's not. Before a team can win, it has to take responsibility for its actions. After several previous losses this season, the Cats, including the coaching staff, seemed more intent on making excuses than accepting blame for the loss.

"If you don't invest something in what you do, you can't get real happy about it when it works or not real upset when it doesn't," Brooks said. "This team invested a lot for 60 minutes tonight that's why this one hurts so much."

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