Date story was published: Sunday, November 11, 2001
NASHVILLE -- The Kentucky football team probably didn't even need a bus toget home from Nashville.
Judging from the smiles on the faces of the Kentucky players and coachesafter yesterday's 56-30 waxing of Vanderbilt, the Wildcats could have floatedthe 217 miles back to Lexington.
There had been a lot of what-ifs the past three weeks after UK had letthree possible wins slip through their fingertips, but Guy Morriss's teamdidn't leave anything to chance yesterday. The Wildcats jumped out to astunning 30-13 halftime lead and never looked back in compiling itshighest-point total since a 68-34 win over Louisville in 1998.
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It also ended a 15-game Southeastern Conference losing streak for the Cats(2-7, 1-6).
"I thought about doing some cartwheels across the field," an elated Morrisssaid afterward. "It's been a long time coming."
"Winning cures almost everything," defensive coordinator John Goodner said."It's such a good deal to go in the locker room and see those ol' kids smilingand laughing and carrying on."
And don't try to tell the Kentucky players that a win over a 2-7 Vandy teamplaying for a lame-duck coach doesn't mean a lot.
"I don't care what team we played, finally getting a win and being able tolet loose and have fun is great," UK receiver Derek Abney said.
The Kentucky offense piled up a season-high 583 yards and set a team recordfor the most points scored in a SEC game, but it was the defense that came upwith the play that turned the game.
Vandy was driving deep in UK territory in the second quarter and seemed onthe verge of trimming the Cats' 23-13 lead to 23-20 with five minutesremaining in the half.
But defensive end Dennis Johnson sacked Vandy quarterback Greg Zolman andknocked the ball loose at the UK 18. Linebacker Jamal White scooped it up andoutraced Commodore tailback Rodney Williams 82 yards into the end zone to givethe Cats a 30-13 cushion.
Vandy wouldn't get within single digits the rest of the way.
"That was the turning point in the game," said Vandy Coach WoodyWidenhofer, coaching his final game at Vanderbilt Stadium. "We're going in fora touchdown late in the first half to get within three points and fumbled.They return it 90 yards for a touchdown, and that 14-point turnarouund wassomething we couldn't recover from."
It was good that the defense provided a little extra cushion because Zolmanhad a career day. He completed 29 of 45 passes for 441 yards, with a pair oftouchdowns to wide receiver Dan Stricker, who had a monster day himself with12 catches for 204 yards.
But those numbers paled in comparison to the ones put up by UK's JaredLorenzen. The 6-foot-4 lefty went 26-for-37 for 453 yards, a career-high sixtouchdowns and no interceptions.
"We just took what they gave us and it was pretty much a great all-aroundeffort," Lorenzen said. "It feels great -- we finally get to have a happy ridehome."
Still, the way the Cats started the second half made you wonder if theywere headed for another heartbreaker.
Earlier in the game, Morriss inserted Tommy Cook at quarterback and linedup Lorenzen at wide receiver, and Cook took the snap from center Nick Seitzeand picked up six yards on a quarterback keeper.
On the first play of the second half, Lorenzen was again at receiver withbackup quarterback Shane Boyd lined up in the shotgun. But Boyd fumbled afteran 11-yard gain at the UK 40, and Vandy scored three plays later on a Williamsrun to trim Kentucky's advantage to 30-20 less than two minutes into the thirdquarter.
But it took UK just five plays and a little more than a minute to respond.Lorenzen pump-faked and found a wide-open Derek Smith over the middle, and thebig tight end went untouched into the end zone to make it 37-20 Cats with12:16 in the third.
Morriss admitted he was concerned after UK's turnover and Vandy's quickscore.
"I had a few choice words; you can bleep those right quick," Morriss said."We put the ball on the ground, they came right back and scored, and you hopeit doesn't go through the kids' minds, 'Here we go again.'
"But they pushed themselves through it today, and I think they can takeconfidence from that."
The Commodores then struck again with a five-play drive that took just 80seconds, resulting in a 1-yard keeper by Zolman that made it 37-27 with 9:34in the third.
Lorenzen just went right back to work. He hit Smith for a 25-yard gain tothe Vandy 34, and then rumbled 10 yards to the Commodore 5-yard line. Twoplays later he found a wide-open Abney in the left flat to give Kentucky a43-27 advantage. The Cats would tack on two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
It was the kind of offensive explosion Morriss had been searching for allseason.
"I wouldn't say we've arrived yet, but we're making progress," Morrisssaid. "I don't think the kids ever doubted the offense, anyway, and we feltlike it was a matter of time before we could bust one open like we did."
And while there were plenty of smiles around the Wildcat camp afterward,Morriss said the locker room scene wasn't too wild.
"It was kind of subdued, really," Morriss said. "We felt good about thewin, but I think it was a feeling maybe they expected to experience after thisball game. I thought it was our best week of practice, and I think the kidsrealized that and were very confident coming down here."