Story published: Sunday, November 18, 2006
Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks started his post-game news conference as he always does, by going over his team's injury report.
Except yesterday, after going over each one of his players' ailments, he made one late addition."A head coach who has a heart condition."
Indeed, Brooks may have needed a pacemaker after watching his team come dangerously close to what could have been a souring, bowl-jeopardizing loss.
The Wildcats (7-4) needed another monster game from junior wide receiver Keenan Burton and a late stop on a potential game-tying two-point conversion to escape with a 42-40 win in front of a Senior Day Commonwealth Stadium crowd announced at 53,463.
Burton caught nine passes for 115 yards and three touchdowns, his fourth straight game with at least two TD receptions. He now has 32 catches for 438 yards and nine scores in his last four games.
Burton was his usual modest self after the game, giving credit to quarterback Andre Woodson and the coaching staff.
"The coaches put me in great position; all I have to do is catch the ball," he said. "Andre's putting it right where it needs to be."
But junior receiver Dicky Lyons, who supported Burton with six catches for 79 yards, called Burton the best receiver in the Southeastern Conference.
"He's a complete receiver," Lyons said. "He can go over the middle, he can catch the deep ball, he can get the jump balls. I'm just glad to be able to watch him and learn from him."
Kentucky's much-maligned defense had another nightmarish effort, allowing a Louisiana-Monroe team that had scored more than 20 points three times this season to roll up 501 yards of offense.
ULM (2-8) didn't do anything fancy. The Warhawks just lined up in the shotgun, and quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster (14 carries, 85 yards) kept it or handed off to running backs Calvin Dawson (26 carries, 179 yards) or Erroll Hogan (12 carries, 82 yards). They also converted a whopping 69 percent (9-for-13) on third down.
"They found out they could run the read play, and they gashed us," Brooks said. "They flat gashed us. Our guys were on their heels and not playing aggressively. We let them off the hook on several third downs."
The only saving grace for defensive coordinator Mike Archer's unit came after ULM's Lancaster scored on a 1-yard keeper to bring the Warhawks to within two, 42-40, with 54 seconds remaining.
Surprisingly, though, ULM lined Lancaster up under center with a full backfield and tried to run the option on its two-point conversion attempt. Junior linebacker Wesley Woodyard took the pitch away and forced Lancaster inside, where redshirt freshman defensive end Jeremy Jarmon stopped him a yard short of the goal line.
"We made one play," Archer said. "We didn't make many others."
The optimistic approach was that the Cats' defense did save the game when it had to.
"A couple of our teams the past two years probably wouldn't have made that play," Brooks said.
The pessimistic approach was that the defense continues to struggle, and probably even took a few steps backward yesterday.
"We did win the game, but I'm disgusted by what I see," Archer said. "Nobody on our defensive staff is happy about what's going on right now, and the players are just as upset as we are."
ULM scored first when Greg James picked up Travis Eickman's block of a 25-yard Lones Seiber field-goal attempt and ran it back 78 yards at the 10:31 mark of the first quarter.
After a 45-yard Cole Wilson field goal gave the Warhawks a 10-7 lead with 4:37 left in the first, Woodson and Burton got cranked up. Woodson attacked the ULM secondary with short passes, then pump-faked and went 37 yards over the top to a wide-open Burton to give UK its first lead (14-10) with four seconds left in the first quarter.
Burton then took a middle screen on UK's next possession and pranced to a 17-yard run-and-catch that padded the advantage to 21-10. He added a 25-yard score midway through the fourth quarter that gave Kentucky a 42-34 lead.
Woodson was 25-for-35 for 359 yards, three TDs and no interceptions.
So while Brooks' worst fear, a letdown after big wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt, came true, UK was still able to get that much-needed seventh win.
"I've sat here after games like this and wondered how we managed to find a way to lose," said senior center Matt McCutchan. "This time, we found a way to hang on and win."