One bad play rains on Locke's big day

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 4, 2009 

When interviews were over, Derrick Locke hobbled out of the Wildcat Den under Commonwealth Stadium.

"Man, I'm sore," he said quietly.

It was nothing serious, just some aches and pains after the Kentucky junior running back racked up a career-high 204 all-purpose yards against No. 3 Alabama in a 38-20 losing effort.

Locke was a little bit beat up, not only physically but mentally, too.

Despite having a great statistical game, which included season highs in rushing and receiving, the 5-foot-9 back was struggling to forget his potentially game-altering fumble late in the first half.

"I thought about it the whole game because I felt like I let my team down," Locke said of the costly fumble with 35 seconds left in the first half that allowed Alabama to turn a slim lead into a 21-6 advantage at the break.

Locke caught a pass from quarterback Mike Hartline on the right side and had it knocked out of his hands by linebacker Rolando McClain.

"I didn't tuck it quick enough," Locke explained. "I took two steps and went to tuck it," before it was knocked away and plucked out of the air by Courtney Upshaw, who ran it in for six points.

It was a huge game-changer for a player who put up game-changing numbers.

It was just the second fumble of Locke's career, but it came at the worst possible time.

"He's had two big fumbles, and they've snowballed our downslides," said Joker Phillips, UK's head coach for offense. "We were never able to recover in this (game). ... We'd been playing them toe-to-toe, and to give them a cheap one like that took the wind out of us a little bit."

Coaches and players told Locke to forget about it, to put it out of his mind, but he admitted it stuck with him.

"It messed with my head a little bit," Locke said. "I told them I would make up for it, and that's what I tried to do."

He went into halftime with just 26 yards rushing and 21 yards receiving.

He left the game Saturday afternoon with a season-high 75 yards on 20 carries and six catches for a season-high 63 yards.

The Southeastern Conference's all-purpose yards leader also had 66 yards on two kickoff returns.

With fellow running back Alfonso Smith nursing a sprained thumb, Locke carried the bulk of the load on the ground for Kentucky, which finished with 133 rushing yards.

His ability to run the ball impressed Alabama Coach Nick Saban. Locke's 75 yards were more than any team's total ground yardage versus the Tide this season.

The previous high was Virginia Tech, which had 64 rushing yards.

"They played with a lot of toughness," Saban said of Kentucky. "They ran the ball on us as well as anybody probably has for a while, and I think they deserve a lot of credit."

UK Coach Rich Brooks was not happy with Locke's fumble but couldn't overlook the junior's performance, calling him "a warrior."

"He's really becoming an all-around football player," Brooks said. "He can do a lot of things: catch the ball, run the ball. He gets the hard yards as well."

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