The players knew it was coming. As they walked into the locker room last night tied at 14 with Kent State, the University of Kentucky players figured on a volcanic eruption from Coach Rich Brooks.
And that's just what they got.
When asked whether it was a 10 on the Richter scale, senior linebacker Wesley Woodyard said, "It was about a 12."
Brooks' pep talk had the desired effect, as the Cats went from lethargic in the first half to lethal in the second. UK scored 21 consecutive points in the third quarter and cruised to a 56-20 win in front of a crowd of 67,380 at Commonwealth Stadium.
Afterward, Brooks suggested his team might have been looking ahead to next week's matchup with Louisville, which was a hot topic among the media this week.
"I guess you guys were right all week," Brooks said to the media following the game. "Maybe we weren't ready to play. Maybe we were looking ahead.
"Thank goodness we got their attention. I obviously failed to do that going into the game. I tried, but I wasn't heard. At halftime, they heard me loud and clear. That's the good news. Maybe I need to rant and rave more often."
Kentucky looked dazed and confused in the first two quarters. Breakdowns in the offensive line led to four sacks of Andre Woodson, and the defense had no answer for the Kent State quarterback/running back tandem of Julian Edelman and Eugene Jarvis.
Edelman was perhaps the guttiest player on the field last night. The 6-foot, 195-pound junior repeatedly caught UK overpursuing, and he displayed some nifty moves when he tucked the ball and took off downfield.
Jarvis, a 5-foot-5, 170-pound waterbug, gashed UK up the middle and had a whopping 124 first-half yards on 17 carries. Edelman added 79 yards on 17 first-half attempts.
"Kent State came in and gave us all we wanted in the first half," Brooks said. "(Edelman) is a tough, competitive football player. He ran us ragged. And the running back, we couldn't see him half the time, and when we did, we couldn't tackle him."
Most of the UK players disagreed with Brooks' assessment that they were looking ahead to Louisville, but they did admit that Edelman caught them by surprise.
"We may have underestimated how elusive he was," defensive end Jeremy Jarmon said. "The plays we saw on film, we didn't think he would make them on us. That's just great athletic ability on his part."
Kent caught the Cats with their britches down on the first series of the game, as holder Leneric Muldrow took the snap on a 24-yard field-goal attempt and ran it in for a 13-yard score and 7-0 Kent lead at 10:25.
Fullback John Conner responded for UK with a 5-yard TD run to tie the game at 7, and Woodson hit Steve Johnson for a 32-yard scoring pass to give Kentucky a 14-7 lead with 13 seconds left in the first quarter.
Jarvis' 10-yard TD run tied the game at 14 three minutes before halftime, which brought a smattering of boos from the Commonwealth Stadium crowd. Kent would have gone into intermission with a nice lead if not for its own miscues.
Kent outgained UK 268-96 in the first two quarters and had the ball nearly twice as long as the Cats, but Edelman committed turnovers in Wildcat territory on three consecutive possessions. He lost a fumble near midfield in the first quarter, made a bad option pitch to Jarvis that was recovered by Ricky Lumpkin in the second, and was picked off by Calvin Harrison trying to find Shawn Bayes near the end zone.
The Golden Flashes also drove to the UK 14-yard line just before intermission but allowed the clock to run out before they could get off a go-ahead field-goal attempt.
"We were fortunate it was 14-14 at the half," Brooks said.
Brooks then flipped his lid in the locker room.
"He gave us one of those pep talks you don't want to hear, but it got our focus," said senior linebacker Wesley Woodyard. "He got into some guys he normally doesn't say a lot to."
"He basically just let us know that if we mess this up, everything goes out the window," said senior receiver Keenan Burton.
UK came out in the second half like a bunch of kids who had been grounded and were desperate to get off punishment early.
Conner burst up the middle for his second TD of the night on Kentucky's first drive, a 17-yarder at 11:03 that put the Cats up 21-14.
UK needed only six plays to go 77 yards on its next possession. Rafael Little started the drive with a 15-yard run, Woodson hit Dicky Lyons Jr. for a 21-yard gain, and Tony Dixon had a 17-yard run followed up by an 18-yard scamper that made it 28-14.
Woodson, who finished 15-for-22 passing for 218 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, gave the Cats a three-touchdown cushion with perhaps his best throw of the young season. He hit Burton in stride on a corner route on the right sideline for a 51-yard strike to make it 35-14. Burton led all receivers with seven catches for 109 yards.
UK's backup running backs turned the game into a blowout in the fourth quarter. Alfonso Smith scored on a 12-yard run and true freshman Derrick Locke added a 67-yard TD jaunt.
The defense also tightened up on Edelman and Jarvis. After a combined 203 first-half yards, the duo mustered just 63 in the second half. Jarvis was held to seven yards after intermission.
"We played like we were capable the last 30 minutes," Brooks said. "The first 30 (minutes) were embarrassing because we didn't play. The difference between the first and second half was night and day. It didn't look like the same team out there. I don't think we should have looked as bad as we looked in the first half, but when we finally turned the engine up we looked pretty good.
"I'm glad we were able to answer the bell and that we can find the energy, execution and the ability to raise our level of play and end up making a game that was scary at best for 30 minutes an easy win in the end."
Date story ran: Sunday, September 09, 2007