Story published: Sunday, October 08, 2006
If the defense had been the leaky faucet for Kentucky this season, the offense was the Rock of Gibraltar.
If you take away the Florida game, the Wildcat offense hadn't had many problems gaining yards or putting up points all season. But in what was viewed as a season-defining game against South Carolina last night, the UK offense spent much of the night in neutral.
The Wildcats' offensive inefficiency helped put them in a 17-0 third-quarter hole, and a fourth-quarter rally proved too little, too late as the Gamecocks escaped with a 24-17 win in front of 61,449 at Commonwealth Stadium last night.
The win marked the 200th career victory for South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier and improved the Gamecocks to 4-2 overall, 2-2 in the Southeastern Conference. UK fell to 3-3 and 1-2.
The Wildcats had 351 yards of total offense but made miscues at key moments that kept them from putting more points on the board.
"The offense just didn't produce the way it was supposed to," junior receiver Keenan Burton said. "We really couldn't get into a groove."
The UK defense, whipping boys after giving up 558 yards to Central Michigan last week, gave up 383 yards last night and allowed the Gamecocks to go 7-for-13 on third-down conversions. The defense did give the Wildcats some momentum on the game's opening possession, when cornerback Shomari Moore picked off a Syvelle Newton pass at the UK 1-yard line to stop a long Gamecocks drive.
Kentucky then moved the ball into South Carolina territory, but a bad snap by center Trai Williams resulted in a 10-yard loss that killed the drive.
Newton scored on a 7-yard option keeper to give the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter, and UK once again moved the ball past midfield. But Woodson was sacked for an 11-yard loss on third-and-eight, and UK was forced to punt.
"We'd have drives going and then kill ourselves," Woodson said. "We did that all night."
UK blew another opportunity to seize momentum when South Carolina's Noah Whiteside dropped the ensuing punt at his own 3, and UK's Alfonso Smith and Ben McGrath failed to come up with the recovery. Whiteside fell on the ball, and the Gamecocks ended up driving 72 yards on 10 plays, culminating in a 42-yard Ryan Succop field goal at 2:01. South Carolina led 10-0 at the half.
The UK offense sputtered coming out of the locker room, as Woodson was picked off at his own 35 on the Cats' first possession. Cory Boyd scored on a 5-yard run four plays later, and the Gamecocks led 17-0 with 11:37 remaining in the third.
It took a 17-yard run on a fake by punter Tim Masthay to get the Wildcats' blood flowing on offense. Tight end Jacob Tamme fought through double coverage for a leaping 20-yard reception to the South Carolina 1, and Woodson scored on a bootleg keeper to get the Cats on the board with 6:57 left in the third.
UK's defense then forced consecutive three-and-outs, and Kentucky advanced inside the South Carolina 30 on back-to-back possessions with a chance to trim the lead. But all UK could manage was a 31-yard Lones Seiber field goal late in the third quarter.
On UK's first opportunity, running back Rafael Little was stopped for a 6-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 7, and the Cats had to settle for a Seiber kick that made it 17-10 at the 1:54 mark.
The Cats moved to the Gamecocks 27 with a chance to tie, but a holding call on tackle Michael Aitcheson pushed them back, and Woodson was sacked on the next play. The series ended when Seiber pushed a 45-yard attempt right.
"You have a botched snap, a hold, a sack. Those are things that are hard to overcome," said UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips. "We were behind the count all night, and you can't, as deep behind the count as we were. You get into situations like first-and-20, or second-and-19, we're not good enough to overcome that."
Coach Rich Brooks lamented UK's three points out of those two possessions.
"We had great field position, and that's when the offense has to step up and do something," he said. "We failed on two opportunities to seize momentum, and that gave momentum right back to them."
South Carolina appeared to deliver the knockout blow when Newton caught a double-reverse 22-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Kenny McKinley with 4:42 left, but Kentucky still had a chance.
Dicky Lyons Jr. broke free for a 61-yard pass from Woodson and followed that with a 9-yard TD catch to make it 24-17 with 2:56 left.
The Gamecocks managed to kill all but 22 seconds of the clock, but Burton caught a short pass from Woodson and ripped 38 yards up the right sideline before running out of bounds at the South Carolina 38 with nine seconds left. But Burton couldn't haul in Woodson's Hail Mary pass as time expired.
It was Spurrier's 14th consecutive win against Kentucky, yet he wasn't pleased with how his players finished the game and ripped into them in his post-game news conference.
"Our guys almost gave away a game," he said. "It was really sad. That was embarrassing watching them go up and down the field at the end of the game.
"We're still South Carolina and we still can't shake being a South Carolina team that doesn't know how to win. I don't know if it's happened in the past but I'm not used to it happening to teams I'm coaching, getting a two-touchdown lead and almost just saying, 'Come on back, boys, and hopefully we can hold on and edge you out.' "
Brooks, on the other hand, has to find a way to rally his troops and get them ready for a road trip to Louisiana State next Saturday.
"I just tell them to keep their head up and let's get better," he said. "We still have a chance to have a good year."