Don't worry, be happy

jclay@herald-leader.comSeptember 20, 2009 

Don't be complaining, now.

Don't be down on the defense, or hating on Mike Hartline, or picking at the play calling. Don't be grumbling that the only thing that came between your team and a bitter loss to your archrival was the good fortune of a muffed punt.

Admit it, four years ago, you, Kentucky football follower, would have all but given your firstborn to get a victory, any victory, over the Louisville Cardinals.

And you would have been happy to get it by any means necessary.

So don't go all spoiled on us just because two-touchdown favorite Kentucky went stumblin', bumblin', fumblin' all over Commonwealth Stadium, and needed a late Louisville fumble, to pull out a pulse-pumping 31-27 win before a jam-packed crowd of 70,988.

Poor Trent Guy, Louisville's lightning-strike of a receiver, picked a bad time to muff a punt, giving UK an unexpected possession with 5:31 left and the home team down by four points.

Kentucky capitalized when Randall Cobb snatched a Hartline 12-yard pass in the end zone with just 4:28 remaining for the final margin.

That's three in a row for the Cats over the Cards, who were previously on a four-game series win streak of their own.

This year, on this Saturday, Kentucky did what you always hear the experts say about good teams. Good teams play badly and still win.

We don't know whether Kentucky is a good football team. Not yet. There's a long way to go, and the next two Lexington visitors, defending national champ Florida and big, bad Bama, as in Alabama, will tell a lot about the 2009 Cats. But we do know one thing: In many respects, Kentucky was bad on Saturday.

Its bad clock management (and clock-operator malfunction) squandered possible points at the end of the first half, points that could have been important at the end. Its bad ball security led to three consecutive turnovers in a third quarter in which it ran all of four offensive plays. Its bad coverage gave up a 65-yard kick return and a 66- yard touchdown pass.

And yet, "We're capable of making up for our mistakes, or other team's good plays," Coach Rich Brooks said. "Coming back, we didn't hang our heads. We just went out there, rolled up our sleeves."

Now you can certainly argue that UK should have never been in such a tough spot in the first place, trailing 20-17 with 14:16 left in the game, and then 27-24 with 7:49 remaining.

But you wouldn't be giving much credit to Justin Burke, the former Lexington Catholic star who, in his second start for U of L, threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns. And you'd be minimizing the diminutive Guy, the Cardinal who was nearly fatally wounded by a stray bullet a year ago, returned that second-half kickoff 65 yards, and caught that 66-yard strike from Burke that put the visitors up three midway through the final period.

And you wouldn't be giving much credit to the Kentucky defense, which spent the third quarter wearing the wall on its back. On three straight third-quarter possessions, Louisville started at the UK 34-yard line, 44-yard line and 25-yard line. It ended those possessions with a field goal, a missed field goal and another field goal. Total: Six points.

"It kind of showed the character of our players, the character of our team," said defensive coordinator Steve Brown. "I'm proud of the way the players fought through adversity."

Steve Kragthorpe was proud of his players, as well. "We have nothing to hang our head about," said the embattled Louisville coach.

Nor does the Kentucky football follower have anything to grumble about. No whining with winning. Especially when it's a win over your in-state rival.

By any means necessary.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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