Date story was published: Sunday, September 10, 2000
It certainly wasn't a thing of beauty. But for a Kentucky team looking for a pick-me-up after last week's disappointing loss to Louisville, a 27-9 win over South Florida proved to be pretty good tonic.
"Not a perfect game by any means, but we'll take it," sophomore linebacker Chris Gayton said.
And don't tell the players that an 18-point win over a Division I-AA team is nothing to get excited about.
"South Florida's not a bad team; if we had taken them lightly, we'd be 0-2 right now," senior linebacker Marlon McCree said.
Simply put, the Cats did what they had to do leading into Saturday's showdown with Indiana.
"It may have looked ugly to some people, but we needed to get a win to get some confidence for next week," senior receiver Quentin McCord said.
The much-maligned Wildcat defense pretty much had its way with the offensively challenged Bulls. USF didn't pick up a first down until the 8:39 mark of the second quarter and finished with only 215 yards of total offense.
"We needed to move the ball better," USF Coach Jim Leavitt said. "But I want to give that credit to Kentucky. You have to look at their defense; they played well."
On its heels for much of the game against U of L, the Wildcats defense was the aggressor yesterday, sacking USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell four times and picking up 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including four by McCree.
UK defensive coordinator Mike Major said his unit stayed committed to blitzing instead of checking out of several packages as it did last week.
"I put those checkouts aside," Major said. "We decided to go back to what we do well, and we stuck with the blitzes today.
"We have a bunch of young men that have to get into the rhythm of the game. We tend to get a little better the second or third week, sometimes it takes to the fourth (game), but we picked it and adapted very well."
UK Coach Hal Mumme made it clear earlier this week that he wanted to do a better job of getting the ball in the hands of his wideouts, particularly speedsters Quentin McCord and Derek Abney. Abney was shut out against Louisville, while McCord's only touch went for a 67-yard touchdown.
Yesterday, McCord caught six passes and Abney five. McCord piled up 120 receiving yards and a score, and Abney picked up 62 yards and two TDs.
McCord, who scored UK's first touchdown on a 3-yard reception midway through the second quarter, said he's ready to become the go-to guy in the Cats' offense.
"I think I'm the spark for this offense," he said. "When I play good, we win, and I hope the ball keeps coming to me in critical situations. I want that role right now."
That was fine with quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who finished 30-for-57 for 382 yards and three touchdowns in his second collegiate start.
"After last week, Quentin kept telling me he wanted the ball and needed the ball," Lorenzen said. "That's good to hear coming from a receiver."
Abney, a 5-foot-10, 174-pound redshirt freshman, came through with a pair of acrobatic grabs.
First, he had a 19-yard touchdown in the third period where he outjumped USF corner Kenny Robinson in the end zone to put UK ahead 20-0.
Then Lorenzen hit him with a rope from 27 yards out that put the Cats up 27-3 early in the fourth and brought one of the louder ovations from the Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 63,821.
"Not a lot of people can make that throw," Mumme said. "(Lorenzen) threw it right past the safety. At first I said, 'I don't think he's open,' but a second later I said, 'Good choice.' "
Abney said he wasn't surprised to look up and see the ball zoom right into his arms in full stride as he crossed the goal line.
"You know when he throws it, it's coming," Abney said. "And that was the perfect throw."
Bobby Blizzard was another non-factor against Louisville to emerge yesterday. The 6-7, 247-pound sophomore started and caught four passes for 62 yards.
"We challenged Bobby to step up to the plate this week," Mumme said. "He's not a big-eyed freshman anymore, and he's old enough now to where we expect him to start becoming a great player."
USF fumbled away its best chance to make it a game as halftime neared. Trailing 13-0 and facing second-and-goal from the UK 3, Wildcat safety David Johnson poked the ball away from running back Otis Dixon, and defensive end Matt Layow was able to come up with the recovery.
The Bulls' only touchdown of the game came on a 28-yard run by Rafael Williams with 11 minutes left.
"You have to cash in and try to score no matter who the opponent is," Leavitt said. "In the red zone, you have to come away with points."
True freshman Chad Scott balanced out the passing game with 106 yards on 14 carries -- the first 100-yard rushing game by a Wildcat since Derek Homer gained 137 against Tennessee in 1997.
But make no mistake, Mumme wasn't elated about the performance, particularly the fact that his team only produced 27 points.
Mumme pointed out that it was the third straight ho-hum performance by his team following a Louisville game. In 1998 the Cats weren't sharp but handled Eastern Kentucky, and they struggled with UConn for one half last season.
"It's been that way since I've been here," he said. "This is always a difficult game to play because it's sandwiched between two rivals.
"And other than the fact that I'm happy we won, I'm not that much more overjoyed than I was after last week's game."
But he'll certainly take the 'W.'
"It's a lot better than last week; it's always better to win than to lose," he said. "And today our guys got wired up and ready to play. I thought we learned something about ourselves."