Date story was published||| Sunday, November 02, 1997
Having survived the first-half shootout with a one-point advantage last night, Kentucky opened the second half on the move again, motor humming, guns blazing, yardage moving beneath its flying feet -- the end zone and some scoreboard separation in sight.
Instead, a different sort of separation reared its ugly head. In plural. Derek Homer was separated from the football. James Whalen was separated from the football. Tim Couch was separated from Craig Yeast, his pass landing in the hands of an LSU defender for Kentucky's third turnover of a terror-ridden third quarter.
And soon the Cats were separated from a close game, the roof caving in from above as 16th-ranked LSU roared to a 63-28 victory at Commonwealth Stadium.
Tiger tailback Kevin Faulk rushed for 212 yards and five touchdowns as LSU pulled into a first-place tie in the SEC West by running its record to 4-2 in the conference and 6-2 overall.
Kentucky dropped to 4-5 overall and 1-5 in the league, thanks mainly to a third period when three straight Cat turnovers led to 22 straight LSU points.
"I thought we could overcome the first one because we were moving the ball well," said UK Coach Hal Mumme afterward. "I think the second one down there on our end after they scored and kicked offI think that was the one that kind of broke our back."
The first one was tough enough to take. After all, the Cats had overcome a 12-0 first-quarter deficit to take a 21-20 lead at the end of a wild, rain-soaked first half that included six touchdowns and 636 yards of offense - 345 from the Tigers and their terrific ground game and 291 from Kentucky's air raid.
Then, to start the second half, the Cats fielded the kickoff and promptly took right up where they left off in the second period. Couch hit Yeast for 31 yards. Three plays later, he found Yeast again for 10 yards and another first down at the 17-yard line, setting up a Homer run off left tackle.
"They kind of had a freak blitz there with the linebacker (Joe Wesley) and he hit me right after I got the ball," Homer said. "He just knocked it loose. Unfortunately it came at a bad time. We'd probably have scored a touchdown there. It took a lot of momentum out of the team. You can't do that against a good team."
And LSU is a good team. The Tigers gained 613 yards on the night - 106 more than Florida gained back on Sept. 27 - including an even 400 on the ground. Quarterback Herb Tyler threw for 213 yards, completing 15 of 20 passes, and ran for 53 more. He threw for a score and ran for a score.
33-yard return. The Tigers covered the remaining 42 yards in seven plays with Tyler scoring from six yards out. The junior carried in the two-point conversion, as well, putting LSU up 28-21.
Two plays later, the Cats had turned it over again. This time, Couch hit James Whalen on the left sideline, and the freshman walk-on lost the football as quickly as he was hit by LeBlanc. UK yelled for an incompletion, the official called it a fumble, with this time Wesley recovering and returning to the Kentucky 8-yard line.
First play, Faulk rolled around right end for the touchdown. The extra point made it 35-21 Tigers, exactly 30 seconds after the previous score.
"We just didn't have enough steam left defensively to make any more stands," Mumme said. "We kind of fired all our shots in the first half at those guys. We had used every blitz we knew, just about every trick they could to shut down that option running game."
Cummings picked off a Couch pass intended for Yeast. Faulk quickly ripped off a 40-yard dash, setting up his own 4-yard touchdown run for a 42-21 lead with 5:56 remaining.
Even when Couch pulled the Cats back to within two touchdowns by hitting Kevin Coleman for an 8-yard score, the Tigers recovered UK's attempt at an onsides kick and moved 46 yards for a score with Faulk going the final 19.
"We started out in an eight-man front, and that held up for a while," said Mike Major, UK's defensive coordinator. "Then they made some adjustments and we started blitzing more. And we'd either get there or we didn't and they'd hurt us. They're just a great football team."
A team that had two weeks to stew over a 36-21 loss to Ole Miss that nearly spoiled a monumental upset win over then top-ranked Florida the week before. And once word spread that Auburn had been shocked 20-0 by Mississippi State yesterday afternoon, the Tigers were playing for a first-place tie.
"This was a big game for us," said Faulk, who set an LSU record for rushing touchdowns in a game. "We needed to re-establish ourselves in the SEC."
"We couldn't have written a better script," said Coach Gerry DiNardo. "Our defense made plays, and our offense was able to capitalize on them."
The Kentucky offense produced 529 yards. Couch tied SEC records with 41 completions in 66 attempts for 410 yards. He threw for four touchdowns but was intercepted three times.
"LSU just did a great job adjusting," Mumme said. "Even the fumble by Derek Homer was a great adjustment on their part, they brought that 'backer through the A gap. You really can't fault Derek, the guy just made a great play. You've just got to take your hat off to LSU."