John Clay: Cats let go of ball, title dreams

Four turnovers negate comeback

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 24, 2010 

South Carolina feared last week that after its big win over then No. 1-ranked Alabama, the Gamecocks would experience a letdown upon arrival at Commonwealth Stadium.

Maybe Kentucky should have had a similar fear this week.

Maybe after finally beating Steve Spurrier for the first time in 18 tries, the Cats experienced a letdown of their own Saturday night at Commonwealth.

The Cats sure let go of the ball. They turned it over four times.

The Cats sure let Georgia's Washaun Ealey run wild in the end zone. The Bulldog finished a highlight night with five rushing touchdowns.

And Joker Phillips' team let any shot of being a factor in the SEC East race go by the wayside, losing 44-31 to the visiting Bulldogs.

"I'd like to see us play all four quarters," Phillips said. "Then you could see what kind of football team we have. We think we know what kind of team we have."

It was a team Saturday night that just did not seem fully into the proceedings.

Not even Randall Cobb's early-week Twitter controversy — using the social network to chastise the fans — could get the crowd jacked up. But it's hard to get jacked up when you are constantly falling down rather large holes.

Oh no, not again.

Where South Carolina just marched down the field on the Cats the first two quarters the Saturday before, Kentucky gave Georgia short fields. First series, Mike Hartline fumbled at the UK 23. Georgia scored.

Later in the first quarter, Georgia's Brandon Boykin returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Then early in the second quarter, when a Hartline sneak failed to garner a first down at the UK 39, Georgia took advantage of the advantageous field position for another touchdown. An Ealey touchdown.

Georgia's average field position in the first half was the UK 15-yard line. Kentucky's average field position was the UK 20-yard line.

By halftime, the score was 28-10 Bulldogs, for Kentucky the same exact halftime score as the Saturday before.

"At halftime, we'd given up 96 yards and 28 points," Phillips said.

But where the Cats threw a second-half shutout against South Carolina, Georgia kept right on keeping on. The Dawgs took the second-half kickoff and marched 70 yards in seven plays to go up 34-10 (after a missed extra point). That all but closed the book.

This was one game where the big numbers — Kentucky outgained the Bulldogs 423-290 — meant absolutely nothing. It was the small number that counted: Kentucky was minus-3 on turnovers.

Beating South Carolina, Kentucky was plus-4 on turnovers.

In the end, Georgia was the team that rediscovered its confidence. Be it the return of A.J. Green or the maturation of quarterback Aaron Murray or the growing familiarity with Todd Grantham's defense or a softer schedule, Mark Richt's club is playing as if it believes it can win the East.

That was Kentucky's battle cry after the comeback win over Carolina. It didn't pan out. Four turnovers will do that to you. And Kentucky couldn't pull the rabbit out of its hat this time. Three losses might still win the SEC East. Four losses will not.

So where do the Cats go from here. Starkville, for starters. Dan Mullen's men pulled out a 29-24 win over UAB on Saturday. Beating Mississippi State will be no easy task. It is doable.

And at 4-4, the Cats could still run the final third of the table. After the trip to Mississippi, Kentucky gets Charleston Southern and Vanderbilt at home, then Tennessee on the road. An 8-4 finish is not out of the question.

But Kentucky has to play four quarters. It can't turn the ball over. And if it wants to finish strong, it can't let down. Or let go of the ball.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or Read his blog at

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