Date published: Monday, September 01, 2003
Now maybe we know why Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks wanted to move the annual matchup with Louisville to the second or third game of the season.
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UK didn't look like a team ready to play a big game last night, as a bushel of first-half errors got the Cats in an early hole and spurred the Cards to a 40-24 victory in front of 70,467 fans at Commonwealth Stadium.Wildcat turnovers and special-teams blunders set up 26 of Louisville's 40 points.
"Louisville made the plays they needed to make to win the football game, and we made the mistakes to lose it," Brooks said.
Brooks' first collegiate game since the 1994 season couldn't have gone much worse.
First, the game was delayed 83 minutes because of inclement weather, and when play did start, the Cats looked like their heads were in the clouds.
UK's offense looked confused and unorganized early. The Cats frequently fought the 25-second clock to get off plays, and when they did, quarterback Jared Lorenzen was usually running for his life as the U of L defensive front controlled the Wildcats offensive line early.
And the two-quarterback experiment of Lorenzen and Shane Boyd, the hot topic of the pre-season, backfired miserably.
On UK's fifth play from scrimmage, Boyd lined up at receiver with Lorenzen at quarterback. Lorenzen then shifted out wide and Boyd moved under center, but Boyd's telegraphed pass was picked off by Gavin Smart, who returned it to the Kentucky 4.
Cardinals quarterback Stefan LeFors then play-faked and hit a wide-open D.J. Kamer in the end zone from 2 yards out to give U of L a 14-0 lead with 6:48 left in the first period.
And the punting game, a concern for Brooks during spring and fall practice, was a disaster.
A bad snap led to a J.R. Russell block of a Sevin Sucurovic punt, setting up Jonathon Jackerson's recovery in the end zone for a touchdown. Sucurovic also dropped a snap early in the third quarter that resulted in a Louisville safety.
"We put our defense in horrible field position almost every time," Brooks said.
UK's new 3-4 defense was chewed up for 240 yards on the ground by Eric Shelton and the Cardinal running game, and LeFors, making his first start, looked like a seasoned veteran as he went 14-for-23 passing for 180 yards and a touchdown.
"We had some breakdowns ... broke a couple of coverages," Brooks said. "We are a young defensive team and we were a little uncertain of what they would do."
The only real mishap the Cards made all night was when LeFors forced a throw under pressure that Muhammad Abdullah picked off in the second quarter.
"I was very proud of our players, and our assistant coaches did a great job of preparing them for the game," U of L Coach Bobby Petrino said. "(The players) carried out the game plan very well."
Trailing 21-10 at intermission, UK offensive coordinator Ron Hudson simplified things for Lorenzen in the third quarter, and the big left-hander got the Cats back in the game by throwing a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes to close the gap to 26-24.
Often forced to throw on the run and from all sorts of angles, Lorenzen still finished 18-for-31 for 236 yards and the two TD strikes.
But U of L answered Lorenzen's heroic comeback attempt by riding Shelton, the Bryan Station graduate and Florida State transfer making his Cardinal debut. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder finished with 151 yards on 25 carries, including a pair of touchdown runs.
His 22-yard scoring run in which he ran through an Abdullah arm tackle put the Cards back in front 33-24 a little more than three minutes into the final period and stifled UK's momentum.
Any hopes of a Wildcat comeback ended when a Lorenzen pass was picked off by Josh Minkins at the U of L 2-yard line with less than five minutes remaining.
Now Brooks and his staff must go back to the drawing board and try to get the Cats to shake off last night's game in time for a visit from Murray State next weekend.
"It's not the end of the world," Brooks said. "We do have 11 games left, and this was certainly a learning experience."