John Clay: Another loss, but UK football makes progress

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 20, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

After the disaster in Arkansas a week ago, this was a near total turnaround.

In Fayetteville, facing an unranked Arkansas, Kentucky trailed by 42 points at halftime.

Saturday night, facing 13th-ranked Georgia, the Cats trailed by two points at the half only because the Bulldogs hit a ricochet field goal on the final play of the first 30 minutes.

Last Saturday, before the second electrical storm called a halt to the proceedings with 20 minutes still left to play, Kentucky was down 49-7.

This Saturday, with 20 minutes still left to play, Georgia scored a go-ahead touchdown to go back in front 22-17.

The final was Georgia 29, Kentucky 24.

A loss is still a loss is still a loss, and Joker Phillips' Cats have now lost six in a row and seven of eight on the season.

And yet, when you are having this kind of season under these unusual circumstances, you will take the bright spots, even in defeat, wherever you might be lucky enough to find them.

"No one can say this team has quit," said Phillips afterward.

After the debacle against Arkansas, quitting might have been easy to do. Throw up your hands. Toss in the towel. Look forward to next season and whatever changes that might bring.

"I was never worried," said Phillips when asked if he feared his team might fold its emotional tent for the remainder of the campaign. "I want to make sure that everyone understands we have not quit."

They showed fight from the outset. It was the best first quarter by a Kentucky team in quite some time. The Cats scored their first offensive touchdown in a first quarter since the Tennessee game in 2010.

It was a 13-play, 84-yard drive with red-zone quarterback Morgan Newton scoring on a 4-yard pass to Aaron Boyd, one of the better post-Maxwell Smith-injury drives of the season.

On the night, running backs Jonathan George and Raymond Sanders both ran hard. George gained 87 yards. Sanders gained 72.

"It was nice to be productive," said offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. "But 24 points was not enough."

On the other side, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray threw for 427 yards and four touchdowns. UK's impossibly young secondary had trouble keeping the Bulldogs receivers in front of them on long throws. That's going to happen. Murray is pretty good.

Yet at the end of the night, after giving up 49 points in 40 minutes a week ago, the Cats held Mark Richt's club to its second-lowest scoring total of the season. That's something.

"I feel like it was a step forward," said junior linebacker Avery Williamson.

If there was ever a drive that proved this team has not waved the white flag, that might give the faithful a bit of hope for things to come, it came when the visitors had finally forged some separation, taking advantage of a questionable running into the kicker penalty by UK to take a 29-17 lead with 7:51 remaining.

"We could have quit then, but we didn't," said Phillips.

With quarterback Jalen Whitlow returning after sitting out a pair of series with a migraine headache, Kentucky drove 75 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown with 3:59 remaining. The key play was a 24-yard pass from the true freshman quarterback to the senior receiver, La'Rod King.

An ensuing onside kick didn't quite work as somehow Georgia came up with the football and, ultimately, the win.

For a second straight season, there will be no bowl game. But there are four games left for a young team to learn and grow and show the same fight it put on display on this Saturday.

As opposed to the previous Saturday.

"We played good at times," said Phillips, who later added when asked about an "almost" victory, "I don't live in the almost."

Last Saturday, the Cats played good not at all. This season, under these circumstances, take progress where you can.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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