Date story was published||| Sunday, October 26, 1997
ATHENS, Ga. - Live by the sword, die by the sword.
For seven games, for Kentucky, life with the sword was good. Aggression was its personality, its claim to new-found fame. No Mildcats these Wildcats. They treated fourth down as just another offensive snap, a punt as just another chance at surprise, a possession as another shot at six. Surely much of the good feeling about Hal Mumme's first season as UK's coach was linked to that attitude, that live-by-the-sword.
Only yesterday, as Kentucky lost 23-13 to No. 16 Georgia at Sanford Stadium, it was the Cats who got cut. And they bled Georgia red.
The line score shows that the electric Robert Edwards popped touchdown runs of 80 and 47 yards. The heady Georgia defense held Kentucky to its lowest point total of the season. And Jim Donnan's meticulous Bulldogs - who were outgained 436-275, but who did not commit a turnover for the fourth straight game - ran their record to 6-1 overall, 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
And yet, in that same line score, wrapped inside Edwards' bookend runs, was the play that sliced UK's throat. "The play of the game," Donnan called it.
Less than 30 seconds remained in a first half Kentucky had dominated everywhere but the scoreboard. A little more than a minute earlier the Cats had finally cracked the end zone, tying matters at 7. They had welcomed the football back with 63 seconds remaining. Two draw plays quickly earned a first down at the UK 33.
"I got greedy," Mumme said. "And I made a bad call."
Greed being his lust for points. Forget the clock. A tiger can't change his stripes. "We don't curb aggression," Mike Major, UK's defensive coordinator and Mumme's longtime friend, said afterward. "That's the way Hal plays, and that's the way we play."
On this play, however, there was a steep price to pay. The call itself was safe enough. Tim Couch took the snap, shuffled his feet right and threw short to Kevin Coleman. The ball never arrived. Brandon Tolbert, Georgia's outside linebacker, tipped the aerial at the line of scrimmage, directing it instead to teammate Ronald Bailey.
Half of Georgia's blood-brother combination at cornerback, the senior eluded a pair of tacklers and ran 37 yards for his second score in as many weeks.
There were 16 seconds left. Suddenly a 7-7 halftime became a 14-7 surge of Georgia adrenaline.
"I called something that wasn't there," Mumme said, a kick-myself tone in his voice, "and they got lucky and scored a touchdown."
The Cats cursed their luck. "Everybody at halftime was mad. At me. They should have been," Mumme said of his players. "They were mad they weren't ahead."
They could have been. Talk had been that Georgia would use its potent ground game - "You've got to run the ball and stop the run to win in this league and Kentucky hasn't been able to stop it," Donnan had said - to keep the Kentucky offense, ranked fourth in the nation, off the field. Instead, the Cats' attack kept its own defense off the field.
Instead of going all-out at Couch, the Bulldogs dropped into thick coverage. They gave turf on draw plays to keep Couch away from the big play.
First possession, the Cats drove to the Georgia 32 only to lose the ball on downs. Third possession, Couch hit running back Derek Homer for an 8-yard score, only to have the six pulled from the board when the officials ruled Homer pushed off before making his catch. "I'm not commenting on officiating," Mumme said.
Seth Hanson's subsequent 34-yard field goal was blocked. Next play, Edwards roared 80 yards down for his first score.
Next possession, Mumme faked a punt on a fourth-and-six from UK's own 22-yard line. Punter Jimmy Carter took an option pitch from upback Dusty Bonner, the backup quarterback. The play went nowhere. Thankfully for UK, neither did Georgia. Jeff Zurcher, UK's Rhodes scholar candidate, blocked Hap Hines' 42-yard field-goal attempt.
Finally, in the second quarter, the Cats chewed up yardage, the clock, and scored, using a whopping 20 plays and 9:14 to go 75 yards. Couch sneaked in from the 1-yard line - on fourth-and-goal, of course - to tie it at 7.
Even after the disaster, i.e. the Bailey interception and run, Georgia was held to a Hines 24-yard field goal for a 17-7 Bulldogs lead with 6:27 left in the third quarter.
Couch then moved his club to the 25-yard line, where on fourth-and-seven his pass just missed Anthony White at the 5. Next, Couch directed a 66-yard drive in 13 plays, hitting Craig Yeast for a 2-yard score, and (after Hanson's extra point was blocked) it was 17-13.
Only 2:49 remained, however. The try at an onside kick - Marc Samuel faked a kick left; and Seth Hanson immediately kicked it right - was touched before it had traveled the necessary 10 yards. Next play, Edwards motored to his second touchdown. And that was that.
In the end, Kentucky (4-4 overall, 1-4 in the SEC) had gone for it a season-high eight times on fourth down (making five), faked a punt, tried an onside kick, and paid for its second-quarter greed.
"We just felt like Georgia's so good we had to take some chances," Mumme said. "That's why we went for it on fourth down a number of times, that's why we did the fake punt. We just felt like we had to create some turnovers with our offense."
Someone asked if Mumme thought he took too many chances. The coach thought for a second.
"No," he said. "Are you asking me if there are some I'd like to take back? You're going to have some takeaways on both sides."
The sword cuts both ways.