COLUMBIA, S.C. — Corey Peters went straight to the heart of the matter the way Kentucky's defensive tackle went straight to the quarterback.
"I know some of our fans are happy, which they shouldn't be," said the senior. "Just keep the guy in our prayers and hope everything's OK, and we'll move forward."
The fans happy that quarterback Mike Hartline was injured?
"Sad to say, but I think so," said Peters. "You never should be happy when a guy's hurt. I still feel like he was the best option at quarterback. I felt that he had a great game up until the point that he got hurt."
And Hartline did, to the point where those same Hartline haters are the ones now saying, "If we only had Hartline in the second half, we would have beaten South Carolina."
But they didn't, and they didn't. In the end, there were too many obstacles to overcome, including a knee injury to its starting quarterback, and thus Kentucky lost for the 10th straight time to South Carolina, 28-26.
Each one of those losses always seems to include a peculiarity or oddity, something that makes the taste of difficult particularly hard to swallow.
"They all get tough," said UK Coach Rich Brooks. "And this is very, very difficult."
After all, for most of his career, and especially for the past two weeks, Hartline has been the punching bag for the talk-show callers and the anonymous message board posters. They couldn't understand why Kentucky insisted on going with the junior behind center, why the Cats didn't try other options.
Then Saturday, against the nation's 14th-ranked defense, Hartline had possibly the best 30 minutes of his collegiate life. He completed nine of 13 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown without an interception. UK led the 25th-ranked Gamecocks 17-14.
Then three snaps into the third quarter — shouldn't have even been a snap considering that UK was called for delay of game on the play — Hartline was taken down awkwardly on a rollout, his left knee grotesquely bending beneath him from the weight of the defender.
The official diagnosis was a knee sprain, though Brooks termed the injury "significant," saying that an MRI would tell more but it was possible that the Ohio native had torn his medial collateral ligament. If that's the case, Kentucky is going to have to go with another quarterback for a while.
"Everybody's going to get to see," said Joker Phillips, UK's head coach for offense. "Everybody was hoping and wishing for this, for a change, well we've got a change."
First it was Will Fidler, the junior backup quarterback, who subbed, but he completed just two of eight passes for 16 yards.
Then it was Randall Cobb who, with the game on the line, was placed in the Wildcat formation, and almost single-handedly drove UK 70 yards — Cobb rushed for 64 — for a touchdown, cutting the Carolina lead to 28-26 with 4:34 left.
Alas, on the two-point conversion to try and tie the score, the UK staff decided to put Fidler back behind center, with Cobb at receiver. But Fidler's pass was knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
Kentucky never got the ball back.
"We had ample opportunities to win the game," Brooks said.
The Cats also had ample opportunities to fold. The young corners, sophomore Randall Burden and true freshman Martavious Neloms, had trouble with South Carolina's receivers and Steve Spurrier's passing game. The defense would make a couple of nice stops, then give up a third-and-long conversion.
If anything, special teams cost UK most of all. Carolina's Chris Culliver returned three first-half kickoffs for 130 yards. The Cats failed on a fake field-goal attempt and set up a late South Carolina score, the one that put the home team up 28-20, with a 5-yard punt.
The one thing the loss could not be blamed on was poor quarterback play. Not in the first half.
"At halftime, I told Morgan (Newton) that that's the best I've ever seen Mike play," said Fidler. "It's unfortunate that it had to end early."
Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.