Date story was published: Sunday, October 23, 1983
ATHENS, Ga. -- "Self-destruct" was the term Jerry Claiborne used to describe what the University of Kentucky's football team did yesterday.
For a team with such great expectations, it seemed fitting that the 47-21 loss to Georgia included both the best and worst of times for the Wildcats. In the first half, UK marched smartly up and down the field, resembling the squad that had its fans thinking bowl.
The second half? UK was bowled over.
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Faster than you can say "let's not impress the bowl scouts," UK crumbled. In a stunning third quarter, Kentucky squandered a hard-fought 14-10 halftime lead, a margin forged against a team ranked seventh in the nation.
To summarize, two fumbles, an interception and a missed tackle gave Georgia a 23-point third quarter.
Another fumble late in the third quarter set up the first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns for the Bulldogs.
By then, however, it no longer mattered.
"We really self-destructed today," Claiborne said. "If we had played mistake-free, we would have had an opportunity to win. You just can't give an outstanding team like Georgia as many possessions in the places we did.
Despite giving up 47 points -- two less than the season high, posted by Auburn -- UK's defense didn't really break. But, Cat turnovers bent the unit out of shape. A fumbled punt by the usually sure-handed Brian Williams opened the third-quarter flood gates. Before they were closed, UK was all wet.
Georgia, now 6-0-1 overall and 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference, began possessions at the Kentucky 17-, 5-, 5- and 28-yard lines in the decisive third quarter. The Bulldogs cashed in with a touchdown, field goal, touchdown and touchdown.
Another of Georgia's third quarter possessions began at the Bulldogs' 13. Eight plays and a missed tackle later, the home team had yet another TD with which to delight a sellout crowd of 82,122.
"At halftime, we felt great; we were competing well," UK linebacker Scott Schroeder said. Then 'Boom!' A fumbled punt, an interception, a fumble, whatever. They kept pouring it on. After that, we started to lose our composure."
Before that, the Wildcats seemed capable of pulling of an improbable two-game sweep at Louisiana State and Georgia. UK even shook off its first glaring error -- a snap five yards over punter Paul Calhoun's head -- to take a 14-10 halftime lead. And, the Cats did it in style, driving 77 yards in six quick plays. Quarterback Randy Jenkins hit Joe Phillips with a 16-yard pass for a touchdown with 20 seconds left in the first half.
Then, the same Wildcats who had turned the ball over just 12 times in their first six games played giveaway four times in the next 15 minutes.
With last cigarette and blindfold in place, Georgia fired away. The result left UK with its second loss in seven games, its second SEC setback in three league outings.
"It was a strange turn of events in the third quarter," Georgia Coach Vince Dooley said. "I would like to think our defense had a lot to do with the mistakes that Kentucky made."
Hogwash, said Jenkins, who threw the interception and committed one of the third-quarter fumbles. Another came when tailback George Adams was hit after receiving a handoff on a draw play. "Georgia didn't stop us," the UK quarterback said. "We stopped ourselves."
Finger-pointing aside, UK could manage only 8 yards of offense and one first down in the third quarter and 12 net yards rushing in the second half.
Four 5-yard penalties (two for motion, one for having an illegal receiver downfield and another for a facemask violation) didn't help the third-quarter effort, either.
Ironically, the third period had been most kind to Kentucky in previous games. UK had outscored its first six opponents 56-14 in third-quarter action.
UK's march to misery could hardly have begun at a seemingly brighter moment. Leading 14-10, the Cats had stopped Georgia near midfield on the Bulldogs' first possession of the second half.
Chip Andrews' punt sailed high and began curving away from Williams, who was standing at the UK 15. The UK returner signaled a fair catch and was hit almost immediately after touching the ball. Georgia tight end Clarence Kay recovered the fumble at the 17.
Claiborne refused to say whether he believed Williams was given the necessary two yards to catch the punt as required under a new NCAA rule this season.
Claiborne wouldn't talk because of an SEC gag rule that forbids league coaches from commenting on officiating.
Williams, who was fighting a losing battle to hold back the tears, was also unable to discuss the play.
"I don't want to talk about it," the Middlesboro sophomore said in a halting voice.
Five plays later Georgia had the lead for good as backup tailback David McCluskey leaped into the end zone from 3 yards out with 9:42 remaining in what was a long, long third quarter for UK.
The Wildcats, who didn't get their initial first down of the quarter until the 58-second mark, turned it over again three plays later. Georgia's All-SEC linebacker Tommy Thurson stepped in front of Phillips and picked off a Jenkins pass at the UK 25 and returned it to the 5. Two plays later, Georgia was still at the 5. Kevin Butler, another All-SEC performer, then kicked a 22-yard field goal to put the Bulldogs up 20-14 with 7:03 remaining.
"I thought he (Phillips) was going to cut in front of the linebacker," Jenkins said of the diagonal pattern. He cut behind."
Thurson saw the play as part of a redemption for the Georgia defense's first-half performance. UK produced 196 yards in total offense and two scoring drives before halftime.
"It was embarrassing," Thurson said of UK's game-opening 10-play, 51-yard scoring drive. "I took it personally. Damn, that's not supposed to happen."
According to Claiborne's scheme of things, neither are UK turnovers. But, they kept coming.
On the second play after Butler's field goal, Adams was hit on a draw play and fumbled the ball away at the UK 5.
"They hit him as soon as I gave him the ball," Jenkins said.
Almost as quickly, Georgia had another touchdown as Keith Montgomery (the game's top rusher with 96 yards on 13 carries) scored from a yard out three plays later. The TD put Georgia ahead 16-14.
The lead grew to 33-14 when the Bulldogs marched 88 yards in eight plays after a three-plays-and-punt series from UK's suddenly impotent offense.
Split end Jimmy Hockaday scored the touchdown, leaping to grab a pass near the sideline, shaking off Russell Hairston's tackle and sprinting for a 52-yard score.
Hockaday's touchdown came with 74 seconds remaining in the quarter, more than enough time for one more Kentucky fumble.
Jenkins was the guilty party, fumbling as he stepped up into the pocket to avoid the pass rush. The Bulldogs recovered at the 28.
Five plays later, Tron Jackson, the third-string tailback, scooted 8 yards for the first of his two fourth-quarter touchdowns.