Date story was published: Sunday, October 17, 1999
There in one corner of the crowded Wildcat Den sat Marlon McCree, UK junior linebacker, part of that once-disparaged defense, a look of solemn satisfaction on his determined face.
"We always knew we could do it," he said. "We didn't read those papers that picked us to go 2-9. We laughed at that. We knew we could do it, we just had to go out and do it."
There in another corner was UK Coach Hal Mumme , being chatted up by bowl officials, his wife and family at his side, a smile on his face.
"The thing about us I like right now is that we're coming together as a team," Mumme said . "We knew they were good players, we were just hopeful we could get them on the same page."
There in another corner was James Whalen, All-America tight end candidate, seven more catches to his nation-leading total.
"I guarantee we're better than we were last year," Whalen said. "We're a better team, and I think it's because we expect to win. Maybe we're not the same as we were athletically and physically, but mentally, that's the key to football, that's the key to life, and mentally right now we expect to win every week."
And so they are. Just a few minutes before, out on the field at Commonwealth Stadium as the final few minutes counted down, it was like a party. No, it was a party. Music blared. Fans danced. The sun shone on the ol' Kentucky home. As the scoreboard said: UK 31, LSU 5.
Back inside in the media room, there was no Tim Couch. No Craig Yeast. No senior offensive lineman. No Kevin Coleman. No Marvin Major or Mark Jacobs or Jeff Zurcher, or any of those graduated seniors the Cats surely could not replace.
"The only people who believed we could win," Whalen said, "was us."
And the win streak is now three, all three SEC wins. Yesterday was no mere victory, it was domination - from the game's first snap when Dennis Johnson stuffed Jerel Myers on a reverse for an 11-yard loss, to the end when the ball-hawk of a free safety Anthony Wajda made his second interception of the day, picking off a desperation Tigers heave to the goal line.
In between was Kentucky's most lopsided win ever over LSU, topping the famous 1977 team's 33-13 drubbing of the Tigers in Baton Rouge.
The Cats held an opponent without a TD for the first time in the Mumme Era. LSU managed just 227 yards of offense. Quarterback Josh Booty completed only 12 of 33 passes. He was intercepted three times. Just twice did the Tigers advance past the UK 20-yard line. Both threats died without points.
The Kentucky offense, meanwhile, got a kick-start from Baton Rouge native Kendrick Shanklin, who burned his hometown team by taking a punt 56 yards for a touchdown just 74 seconds into the contest.
By the end, UK had rolled up 423 total yards. Quarterback Dusty Bonner may not have thrown a TD, but he had a key 19-yard scramble, burned a Tiger blitz with a short toss that Anthony White turned into a 39-yard gain, and hit Quentin McCord on a letter-perfect 40-yard bomb.
"There were so many positive things," Mumme said. "It's hard to single out a negative."
Here's a pulverizing positive: Kentucky is 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the SEC, with a road trip to Georgia next on the agenda.
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," said Johnson, the sophomore defensive end. "But if we keep playing like we're playing, we feel like we can win."
Confidence. That's a difference-maker. Kentucky entered on a two-game win streak, its self-worth buoyed since that season-opening loss to Louisville. LSU hit Lexington on a three-game losing skid, Coach Gerry DiNardo the subject of constant Cajun carping, needing a road win to right his shrimp boat.
Too many holes. After a field goal cut the early lead to 7-3, the Tigers defense could do nothing to stop a 12-play, 82-yard drive. Bonner turned a third-and-11 into a 19-yard scramble to the LSU 5-yard line. Derek Homer scored on the next snap, making it 14-3.
From there, the Tigers threw in four straight punts and blew a 26-yard field goal at the end of the first half. They began the second half with punt, interception, punt, interception.
Kentucky's lone mistake was a blocked punt, LSU's Jarvis Green sending Andy Smith's kick out of the end zone for a safety. "We had one guy break down on that," Whalen said. "I'm sure there will be some screaming about that on Monday."
In the the third quarter, UK went 84 yards on nine plays. White covered the final 34 for the score, bursting up the middle for a score and a 24-5 lead. On the next possession, Wajda picked off an LSU pass and returned it 38 yards to the Tiger 27. Bonner hit Quentin McCord for 22 yards. On the next play, Homer covered 5 yards for the score. It was 31-5 and it would stay that way.
"From week one to now it's just been an incredible turnaround," middle linebacker Ryan Murphy said. "We have so much more confidence. We've got a great belief in the system. We feel like we can play with anybody."
Not just playing.