Date story was published: Sunday, November 12, 2000
It was the type of situation the Kentucky offense has seen time and time again during this frustrating football season.
It had the ball in its hands, late in the fourth quarter with only a touchdown standing in its way of a much-needed win.
And as they've done all year, the Wildcats couldn't make the plays when it counted and let Vanderbilt escape with a 24-20 victory in front of 58,117 fans at Commonwealth Stadium.
Yesterday continued a disturbing trend for a Wildcat offense that has little trouble piling up yards but a lot of trouble coming up with the big plays when they're needed.
Given the ball against Louisville in overtime, they came up short. Given several opportunities for game-winning drives against both South Carolina and Georgia, they came up short.
And yesterday, with the ball at the Vanderbilt 19-yard line with time winding down, the Cats came up short again, as a Jared Lorenzen pass sailed out of the back of the end zone as time expired.
"It's very frustrating," said Lorenzen, who finished 33-for-55 passing for 385 yards and two touchdowns. "We'll make great plays to get downfield, but once we get in the red zone, it seems like everything just stops. I can't explain it."
So all that was left to show for yesterday's 577-yard offensive performance was another loss that dropped the Cats to 2-8 overall and 0-7 in Southeastern Conference play heading into next Saturday's season finale at Tennessee.
"We've done this all year," UK Coach Hal Mumme said. "I"m scratching my head. Our guys are making good plays, but they aren't making the plays to put the game away.
"It's like they're squeezing an apple so hard, they either smash it or drop it. It's probably a combination of bad coaching and youth."
The loss also assured that it will be the Wildcats and not the Commodores at the bottom of the SEC East standings at the end of the year.
"The team that wanted this the most and played the hardest won," Vanderbilt Coach Woody Widenhofer said. "We made no mistakes in the second half, I felt. We gave a good effort and played with a 'do not be denied' attitude."
For Kentucky, the effort seemed to be there, but once again the Cats failed to produce results when they needed them.
After the Commodores took a 24-20 lead late in the third quarter on Greg Zolman's third TD pass of the game, the Cats had four fourth-quarter possessions with a chance to either cut into the lead or go out in front, and they came up short on all of them.
The first drive ended on Seth Hanson's missed field goal from 36 yards, the second ended when Lorenzen's pass intended for Derek Smith was picked off by Matt Stewart, and the third ended on a Lorenzen incomplete pass on fourth-and-10 from the Commodores' 34-yard line.
The UK defense did its part and kept the Vandy offense at bay, setting up the Cats one more time for a potential game-winning drive at their own 19-yard line with 2:13 remaining.
Things started out promising for UK on the final drive. Lorenzen split four passes between Derek Abney and Quentin McCord for 36 yards to the Vandy 45, giving the Wildcats a first-and-10 with 70 seconds left on the clock.
A pair of passes to Derek Homer got the Cats to the 30. Lorenzen then found Smith on the left side for 11 yards to the Vanderbilt 19-yard line, stopping the clock with 21 seconds left.
But the Cats let seven seconds tick off the clock, and by the time Lorenzen's pass trickled out of the hands of Smith in the back of the end zone, only six seconds remained.
Smith, who injured his elbow in the second quarter, thought he should have come up with the ball.
"I just didn't catch the ball, that's all there is to it," he said. "It was a catchable ball. I got one hand on it and I should have been able to get two hands on it, but I just didn't get my other arm up in time."
But Smith wasn't the only one who had trouble holding on to the ball. McCord let a sure touchdown bounce off his hands in the fourth quarter before Hanson's missed field goal, and Lorenzen fumbled on a quarterback keeper right at the goal line late in the second quarter after a 10-yard gain.
"You could have picked out six or eight plays that would have made the difference in the ballgame," Mumme said. "We have to make those plays."
The Cats had one last gasp, but Lorenzen's heave, intended for Chad Scott, sailed 5 yards out of the end zone as the horn sounded.
The Kentucky defense could only watch from the sidelines as the offense failed to deliver the late-game magic once again.
"It's tough to lay it out on the line and put our team in position to win and always come up short," junior linebacker Ryan Murphy said. "It's hard to just sit there and watch and not be able to do anything about it. We're just all over there crossing our fingers, but we came up short again and that's been the theme of the season."
Yesterday marked the second time the Cats have been blanked in the second half after taking a lead into halftime. They led South Carolina 17-13 at intermission and ended up dropping a 20-17 decision.
After falling behind 7-0 when Zolman, who passed for 239 yards, hit tight end Elliott Carson from a yard out on the Commodores' second drive, the Wildcats ripped off 17 points in a row.
Hanson got UK on the board with a 24-yard field goal, and then Lorenzen picked up the Vandy blitz and lofted a 31-yard touchdown to a diving Ernest Simms for a 10-7 Wildcat lead with 58 seconds left in the first quarter. Lorenzen then hit Smith on a 22-yarder over the middle, and the Kentucky advantage was 10 (17-7) early in the second.
Vandy rallied to tie on a 42-yard John Markham field goal and Zolman's second TD toss to Carson, this one from 21 yards out. But Kentucky managed to get a 37-yarder from Hanson at the first-half horn to take the halftime lead.
The Kentucky locker room was not a jovial one at intermission, however.
"It was almost comical at halftime," Murphy said. "We were laughing at each other saying, 'Look, we should be killing these guys,' and obviously we weren't. And like it always does, it came back to haunt us."