FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- The Kentucky football team is starting to make this fourth-quarter comeback thing look pretty routine.
Trailing 29-21 at Arkansas, 21st-ranked UK scored 21 unanswered points over the final 7:59 to post a stunning 42-29 win over the Hogs in its Southeastern Conference opener last night in front of 74,015 at Razorback Stadium. Kentucky has now won nine of its last 10 games dating to last season, and five of those wins have been of the come-from-behind variety. And last night's comeback was even more improbable than the Louisville game last week, when UK got a 57-yard TD reception from Steve Johnson with 28 seconds remaining.
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The Cats were down to their fourth-string tailback. Arkansas backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones had both gone over 100 yards in the first half. And the Hogs scored nine points in a span of 11 seconds on a safety and an 82-yard kickoff return to take a 29-21 lead with 11:40 left in the game.
But Kentucky again got a clutch performance from quarterback Andre Woodson down the stretch and received a huge boost from true freshman tailback Derrick Locke, who was forced into action after UK's top three backs went down to injury.
Locke's 2-yard run brought Kentucky to within 29-27, and Woodson hit Keenan Burton for a 32-yard touchdown reception for the go-ahead score with 4:02 remaining.
UK is now 4-0 for the first time since 2002 and picked up its most significant road win of the Rich Brooks era.
"This team doesn't buckle, even when things don't look good," Brooks said. "We don't fold. We just get more focused."
The Wildcats were on the ropes and wobbly on several occasions last night but refused to go down.
Arkansas jumped on the Cats early. The Hogs' first drive resulted in an Alex Tejada 40-yard field goal, and on UK's second play from scrimmage, Arkansas tackle Malcolm Sheppard hit Woodson as he dropped back to pass. The ball squirted loose, and defensive end Antwain Robinson scooped it up and ran in untouched for a 16-yard score and a 10-0 Razorback lead with 9:16 left in the first quarter.
After the kickoff, Woodson pump-faked and hit Steve Johnson down the left sideline for a 44-yard gain, and Rafael Little went for a 14-yard score on the next play to get the Wildcats on the board at 7:29 in the first quarter.
Jones broke free on a 73-yard run to set up a 20-yard Tejada field goal that gave the Hogs a 13-7 lead, and then McFadden showed why he is regarded as the nation's best back on a dazzling 56-yard TD run.
Operating at quarterback out of the shotgun in Arkansas' "WildHog" set, McFadden took the snap, burst toward the right side of the field, cut back left, made a nifty juke move to avoid an arm tackle by David Jones, and then glided the last 10 yards into the end zone to make it 20-7 with 5:41 remaining in the first half.
The Kentucky offense didn't do much of anything in the first two periods, running the ball eight times for eight yards and picking up 131 yards overall.
But Arkansas failed to further separate itself, and the Cats caught a break when McFadden and Jones both had to leave the game late in the first half because of heat exhaustion.
That forced Nutt to turn to third-string tailback Michael Smith to run out the clock. But Smith fumbled at the Kentucky 34, and cornerback Trevard Lindley recovered and raced 66 yards for a score.
So despite being outgained 373-131, Kentucky went into the locker room down just six, 20-14.
"We were extremely fortunate in the first half," Brooks said.
Most of his teammates called Lindley's play the biggest of the game.
"That game was close to getting away from us," Woodson said. "If (Lindley) hadn't come up with that play, things might have gone a different direction."
"When you've got them by the throat in the second quarter, you've got to finish," Nutt said.
Brooks said he told his team at halftime that he knew they had a comeback in them.
"I told them, 'We've come back before, we can do it again,' " Brooks said. "This is nothing."
UK responded by making a statement on its opening possession of the second half, marching 80 yards in 12 plays and taking its first lead at 21-20 on Woodson's 15-yard pass to Burton in the corner of the end zone.
Little was forced to leave the game with a thigh bruise, and both of his backups made critical mistakes.
UK was still nursing the one-point lead when Tony Dixon lost a fumble at the Arkansas 22 after a nice 26-yard gain. The defense would hold, but the Hogs punted and pinned the Wildcats back at their 3.
Alfonso Smith then went the wrong way on the called run play, leaving Woodson open to get sacked by Fred Bledsoe for a safety that put the Razorbacks back up 22-21.
Jones then returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards for a TD, and all of sudden Arkansas was up eight, 29-21, with 11:40 remaining.
Dixon aggravated a shoulder, and Smith suffered a sprained ankle, forcing UK to turn to Locke. The freshman came through with nine big carries for 48 yards.
"I told him, 'It's time to grow up and be a man right now; we need you,' " Woodson said. "He showed that we have another weapon available when we need him."
On Burton's go-ahead TD, the Arkansas defense jumped offsides. Woodson then lobbed the ball downfield, and Burton, playing on a sprained ankle, went up over two defenders and brought the ball in as he crossed into the end zone.
"I always tell 'Dre just to put it close," Burton said. "I'll make sure it won't get intercepted, and I'll try my best to get it."
Burton added a two-point conversion catch to give UK a 35-29 lead, and after Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick threw incomplete on a fourth-and-11 pass from his 24, the Cats would add some insurance.
Woodson connected with Jacob Tamme on a 21-yard play-action pass to the Arkansas 2 and followed with a 1-yard keeper with 59 seconds to ice the win.
McFadden finished with 173 yards on 29 carries while Jones added 133 on 12 attempts, but the duo was held to a combined 81 yards in the second half after going for 230 the first two quarters.
"We knew the defense had to shut them down and force them to punt in the second half, and the offensive line had to take over the game," Brooks said. "Both of those things happened."
Date story ran: Sunday, September 23, 2007