Vaught's Views: Wildcats go on offensive in near upset of Vols

November 28, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart asked only one thing of Joker Phillips going into Saturday's game.

"I told him not to leave any tricks in the bag," said Barnhart.

Phillips didn't, but he couldn't find that one last trick to finally let Kentucky beat Tennessee.

Kentucky lost 37-31 to Tennessee to end its season with only two wins in 11 games. However, just five days after offensive coordinator Ron Hudson resigned and left the team, the Wildcats suddenly found a way to make offensive plays they seldom had the last two seasons. Or at least they did the first half.

"We wanted to attack and not be predictable," Phillips said. "We have a place on our play sheet called screens. I changed that to shots. I wanted us to take more shots at doing something."

Phillips, UK's recruiting coordinator and wide receiver coach, shared the play calling duties with offensive line coach Paul Dunn and head coach Rich Brooks.


"I had a lot of fun the first half because some of the plays I called worked," Brooks said.

In the first half alone, UK ran a reverse, completed two tight end screen passes for first downs and threw the ball deep successfully. The Cats even faked a field goal. And even though the gamble failed, it still showed a confidence in the players that had seemed to be lacking when Hudson was calling the offense.

"We wanted to let the players know we believed in them and that they could make plays," Phillips said.

Shane Boyd, a quarterback who had seemed throttled in Hudson's system, suddenly looked like he could do anything. He was 17-for-23 passing for 188 yards in the first half when the Cats had 270 total yards. Not bad for an offense that was consistently the worst not only in the Southeastern Conference, but also in the nation.

Second half a different story

Something, though, happened at halftime. Tennessee's defense gave up an 11-play, 80-yard drive that Boyd ended with a 1-yard scoring run to put Kentucky on top 31-22 with 3:30 to play in the third quarter. After that, the Cats didn't pick up another first down. The Cats' last four possessions resulted in no first downs, four punts and minus 27 yards total offense.

It was no wonder Brooks slammed the table in the media room in disgust as he thought about what might have been.

"We played a hell of a game and the wrong team won," Brooks said.

While the defense gave up 34 first downs and 606 total yards, it actually made potential game-winning plays. Cornerback Karl Booker helped hold Tennessee on a fourth down play at the eight-yard line with a big hit and then intercepted a pass near midfield with just 5:40 to play and UK leading 31-29.

"Then we go three and out," Brooks said.

Not only that, but it was a disastrous series - the kind the Cats had way too often under Hudson. On first down, Rafael Little's 6-yard gain was wiped out by a holding call. On the next play, Boyd and Little fumbled a handoff resulting in a loss. Two plays later Tony Dixon couldn't handle a pitchout from Boyd and lost more yardage.

"It's interesting we had 13 penalties and Tennessee had five," Brooks said. "I guess the underdogs are supposed to get penalized."

As it usually happens with Kentucky, several close plays could have turned the game around. If Tennessee had not executed a 53-yard double pass to set up a score, there might not have been time for the last touchdown. If Glenn Holt had not been hurt and in the game, he might have had that extra burst of speed to get to a 35-yard pass that went off Gerard Parker's fingertips after the goal line stand.

Loss can't hide one fact

But the latest in a long list of heartbreaking UK losses still can't hide one fact - this offense did not have to be as bad as it has been the last two years.

Despite the fourth-quarter problems, Kentucky's 31 points was its second-best scoring game of the season and the most points it had scored against a Southeastern Conference foe since getting 42 points in a win over Mississippi State last year. Thirty-one points also tied the mark for the third-best total ever against Tennessee and best since 2001.

Want more? Scott Mitchell, who had a career-high nine catches for 111 yards, had a 41-yard catch, UK's second longest reception of the year. Kentucky also was willing to throw the ball deep, something Hudson normally wanted to avoid for fear of failure.

So was the offense really that much better?

"You tell me. You guys (in the media) are a better judge than most," Brooks said.

It was better. At least until the end of the game.

"I listened to the same song coming over here today that I did 20 years ago when I played here and we beat Tennessee," Phillips, a former UK player, said. "I wanted a happy 20-year reunion here and thought we had it."

They did at least get close because for a change, Kentucky at least had an offense that was productive for three quarters - which was far more than it has had in most games the last two years.

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