Story published: Sunday, October 09, 2005
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- We've all seen games get away from the Kentucky football team before. Sometimes it takes a quarter or two, sometimes it takes a few minutes.
But seven plays?
UK turned over the ball four times during a seven-play stretch, including fumbles on three consecutive carries, to play itself out of a nip-and-tuck affair with South Carolina and into a 44-16 blowout loss yesterday."We learned a lesson in turning a close game into a rout," said UK Coach Rich Brooks. "All you've got to do is turn the ball over."
The game was tied at 10 at intermission, and UK had the ball near midfield trailing just 24-16 late in the third quarter.
Then sophomore running back Rafael Little, who hadn't lost a fumble all year, coughed it up.
A Bo Smith interception helped UK avoid catastrophe after the first fumble, but then Little came back in and fumbled again on the next play. This time South Carolina safety Ko Simpson scooped the ball up and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown that gave the Gamecocks a 30-16 lead.
"When things like that happen to us, the other team picks it up and runs it in for a touchdown," UK defensive coordinator Mike Archer said. "Maybe one day we'll get a break."
It wasn't going to happen yesterday. Backup Arliss Beach replaced Little after the two fumbles and promptly had the ball stripped away by Cody Wells on the next UK snap.
For good measure, Andre Woodson then threw an interception on UK's next series, which set up a 1-yard TD run by Daccus Turman with 5:33 to go that got the rout in motion.
That adds up to four turnovers in a span of four minutes, 53 seconds, three of which occurred at UK's own 24-, 27-, and 20-yard lines.
The miscues offset solid performances by Little (career-high 120 yards), Beach (73 yards) and the UK offensive line, which helped pave the way for a season-high 213 rushing yards.
"It's pretty devastating when you lay the ball on the ground," Brooks said.
"And South Carolina didn't make great plays. We just put the ball on the ground. It's not like we did it with good field position. We did it with chances to get back in the game."
Yesterday continued a series of firsts for Brooks in a coaching career that has spanned five decades. He stated earlier this season that he had never seen a team hit so hard by injuries, and after yesterday's game he said he had never witnessed an avalanche of turnovers in that short a span.
"It's hard to explain," he said.
And for a team that hasn't experienced much success, a bad stretch like that is usually the kiss of death.
"This is frustrating," Woodson declared after the game. "It seems like every game we have a shot, and at some point we blow it. Things start to go bad and we lose it. The whole thing just shuts down."
The word was out across the Southeastern Conference after South Carolina's blowout losses to Alabama and Auburn: If there's ever a time to get Steve Spurrier, you better get him now.
Even Kentucky, which Spurrier had beaten 12 straight times, usually in blowout fashion during his days at Florida, felt like it could put one over on the ol' ball coach.
And when the teams went into the half tied, it looked like the Cats might end the Spurrier hex.
"I felt like we were going to win," Woodson said. "You could tell that we could play with those guys."
But the second half showed that Spurrier's vulnerability hasn't trickled down to Kentucky. He didn't quite take the Wildcats to the woodshed as he did back in his Florida days, when scores of 73-7 and 65-0 were routine. The Gamecocks (3-3, 1-3) did manage to pick up their first Southeastern Conference win and send the crowd of 71,009 at Williams-Brice Stadium home happy.
Quarterback Blake Mitchell shook off a sprained ankle to throw for 277 yards and two touchdowns, both to freshman receiver Sidney Rice (eight catches, 125 yards).
But the Gamecocks still had issues. They had to burn several timeouts when they couldn't get lined up correctly and had a couple of costly penalties, including one for having 12 men on the field.
"We should have beat Kentucky," Spurrier said. "I was just concerned with the way our guys played. I don't want to brag on them too much because we can play a lot better.
"Kentucky is hurting, they've had 14 or 15 surgeries, and I think we should have beat those guys. But it looked like it would be a dogfight all the way."
Kentucky (1-4, 0-2) will have another open date before traveling to Mississippi on Oct. 22.
"No one's going to put their arms around us right now," Brooks said. "We've just got to go out and get better."