Cats' offensive line saved the season

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 19, 2009 

John Clay

Zipp Duncan, senior left tackle.

Christian Johnson, senior left guard.

Jorge Gonzalez, senior center.

Stuart Hines, sophomore right guard.

Justin Jeffries, senior right tackle.

Brad Durham, junior right tackle.

You rarely know the individual names of a team's offensive line unless they do something wrong.

Saturday night at Auburn, Kentucky's offensive line did plenty of things right.

It opened the holes that led to a pair of Cats topping the 100-yard rushing mark — Derrick Locke's 126 yards on 19 carries; Randall Cobb's 109 yards on 12 carries — and the team's highest rushing total (282 yards) in an SEC game in 14 years.

And it also opened the way for Rich Brooks' team to have a completely different season.

That's what one game can do, especially when that game is a 21-14 road win over an Auburn team that entered the night 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC.

"I think this breathes a little life back into our fan base, back into our locker room," said Brooks after the school's first win over the Tigers since 1966 and only its second win ever at Auburn.

A loss and Kentucky would have been 2-4 overall, 0-4 in the SEC. Oh, with six games to go, bowl eligibility would have still been a mathematical possibility, but going winless in a four-game stretch against challenging foes would have taken the shine off even a fourth straight post-season berth.

And there was certainly plenty of reason to think the Cats could go 0-for-4. Without quarterback Mike Hartline, UK was starting a true freshman who had yet to take a college snap in Morgan Newton. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Trevard Lindley, was back in Lexington with a high ankle sprain. Auburn was favored by two touchdowns.

In what Brooks labeled "a total team victory," Steve Brown's defense did a terrific job holding the potent Auburn offense 170 yards below its average and just one offensive touchdown.

But down the stretch, it was the UK offensive line that won the game as the Cats rushed for 142 yards in the fourth quarter alone.

On its first possession of the final frame, the Cats drove 75 yards in a dozen plays to tie the score at 14-14. All but 14 of those 75 yards came on the ground behind the line of Duncan, Johnson, Gonzalez, Hines and Jeffries.

The next possession, with UK taking over at its 32-yard line, Durham replaced Jeffries, who has been battling an Achilles' problem. In fact, the two alternated most of the night. And two plays into that drive was when Cobb found daylight up the middle and zipped to that 61-yard run that ultimately swung the game the Cats' way.

You have to go back to 2004 and a 355-yard effort against Indiana to find the last time Kentucky rushed for more than 282 yards against an FBS opponent.

But you have to go back to the days of Moe Williams and a 301-yard team rushing effort against Mississippi State in 1995 to find the last time the Cats did that to a Southeastern Conference foe.

"The first thing I did was go to my offensive linemen and tell them how much they mean to me," Locke said. "You know what I'm saying?"

Yes, we know what you're saying, and after Saturday, we should know their names: Duncan, Johnson, Gonzalez, Hines, Jeffries and Durham.

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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