Cobb denied chance to win it for Cats

But as clock ran down, UK didn't run Wildcat

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 29, 2009 

For once with the Rocky Toppers in the house, the football gods smiled on Kentucky.

With Tennessee clinging to a 24-21 lead inside the game's final three minutes, the Vols chose to pass on 2nd-and-7 from their own 31.

UT quarterback Jonathan Crompton hit Kentucky product Luke Stocker for what was clearly enough yardage for a possible game-clinching first down.

Yet before Stocker got to the ground — miracle of miracles — UK safety Ashton Cobb knocked the ball loose. Taylor Wyndham fell on it.

Instead of likely defeat, the Cats had the ball at the UT 37.

Thirty-seven yards from finishing second in the SEC East for the first time ever.

Thirty-seven yards from ending The Streak.

You could all but hear the minds of the Kentucky segment of a Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 70,981 processing the same words.

Get the ball to Randall Cobb.

Taking the football with 2:21 left in the game, it seemed UK would do just that.

Running from the Wildcat formation, Cobb ripped off 13 yards around the left end. Next play, same formation, the Alcoa, Tenn., product ran for nine up the middle.

On second-and-1, Cobb powered for two more and another first down. On first down from the UT 13, he ran for three more yards.

Kentucky called time out. It had 1:16 left. It was 10 yards from the victory over Tennessee that UK fans crave only slightly less than oxygen and water.

From that point, you'd like to think Kentucky would make sure to keep the ball in the hands of its best playmaker.

Cobb never touched the ball again on the series.

On 2nd-and-7 from the 10, UK put true freshman Morgan Newton — who was largely ineffective throughout the second half — back under center. The Cats ran a draw play to Derrick Locke for two yards.

Now, on 3rd-and-five and not trusting the freshman Newton to pass with so much at stake, you'd expect Cobb back in the Wildcat, right?

Instead, Newton ran a sweep around right end for two yards.

At a time when the football gods put victory in UK's grasp, Kentucky had to settle for a game-tying field goal with only 33 seconds left.

You know the rest. The game went to overtime. Tennessee won 30-24.

So now The Streak of consecutive seasons with Tennessee football victories over Kentucky is 25 years old. It's out of graduate school, has an MBA and is ready to make its way in the real world.

For the Long-Suffering UK Football Fan, the second-guessing is going to be agonizing.

With the game and so much hanging in the balance, how could Kentucky not have the ball in Cobb's hands for those final two plays of regulation?

Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said the fact that the clock was inside the game's final two minutes made it difficult to stay in the Wildcat formation.

"Unfortunately, we're not expert enough to run the two-minute (offense) out of the Wildcat," Brooks said, "so we got back into our regular formation and tried to finish the drive."

Running the sweep on third down with Newton — who has not had great success reaching the corner against SEC defenses — should have worked, said Joker Phillips, Kentucky's head coach of offense.

"We didn't get the block on the perimeter," Phillips said. "If you saw what I saw, the way they were lined up, it should have been a walk-in" touchdown.

Noting that the 5-foot-11, 188-pound Cobb had to take IVs for cramping during the game, Brooks said that the sophomore jack of all trades was "pretty worn out" by game's end.

While repeatedly emphasizing that it is the responsibility of the players on the field to execute whatever plays are called, Cobb said "at the end of the game is when I'm the most hungry. I would have loved to have the ball in that situation. But I didn't."

In the big picture, I admire the job Brooks has done making Kentucky football respectable. I think Phillips is a skilled playcaller who has shown the ability to adjust his plan to the talent he has available mid-season in multiple years.

But with so much at stake on those final two plays from scrimmage in regulation against the one team Kentucky most burns to beat, how can you have the ball anywhere other than in the hands of your best player?

Make the other team beat your best.

Said Brooks: "I know how much (Cobb) wanted this one tonight."

At the end, I wish Kentucky had given him the chance to win it.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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