Story published: Sunday, November 06, 2005
If Kentucky had been playing a team a little less powerful than Auburn, the Wildcats might have been on to something.
Rich Brooks' club did plenty of good things yesterday: It put up more points (27) and yards (450) than anybody has on the Tigers' defense this season. And despite being the victim of a couple of questionable calls and falling behind 28-10 at halftime, UK made the Tigers work in the second half and were within two scores late in the fourth quarter.
But the 17th-ranked Tigers had too much on both sides of the ball for the Cats to seriously entertain upset hopes. Auburn racked up 589 yards of its own, including nearly 400 rushing, en route to a 49-27 win in front of 60,519 at Commonwealth Stadium.
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"Auburn is a very talented team," Brooks said. "I thought we competed and were able to do some good things against a tough football team."
Though the loss dropped UK to 2-6 overall and 1-4 in Southeastern Conference play heading into next week's game at Vanderbilt, UK showed it hasn't packed it in yet with the future of Brooks and his staff hanging in the balance.
"We're just trying to buy into the Brooks system," said sophomore receiver Keenan Burton. "He's doing a heck of a job coaching. It's never the coach's fault, and we wish people would leave our coaches alone."
The Tigers (7-2, 5-1) got more of a workout than they probably bargained for but never saw the outcome in jeopardy.
"We got it over with," Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville said. "That was one we knew we'd have some problems with intensity-wise going in. It's not one of those games where you jump up and down and say you played a great game. But sometimes you have to play games like that and win, especially on the road."
The story for Auburn was its ground game. One more rushing yard by Tre Smith would have given the Tigers three 100-yard rushers on the afternoon.
Running behind 6-foot-9, 338-pound left tackle Marcus McNeill, starter Kenny Irons carried 23 times for 103 yards in the first two quarters before taking the second half off to get ready for next week's showdown at Georgia. Smith's total included a 46-yard run with 1:35 remaining that closed out the scoring.
The most telling statement about Auburn's talent and depth might have come in the form of Tristan Davis. Davis, who started the year at cornerback, was moved to third-string tailback this week after injuries to backups Carl Stewart and Brad Lester.
Davis hadn't carried the ball since the third game of the year, a 63-3 win over Ball State. But he came in and romped for 162 yards on just eight carries, including a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
"I didn't know who that guy was," UK defensive coordinator Mike Archer said. "After that long run, I went running for my flip card. It must be nice to have a third-string tailback who can run like that."
The UK offense that looked so promising in the season opener against Louisville, only to fade because of injuries, showed signs of returning yesterday. Rafael Little finished with 124 yards rushing and 122 receiving.
And Burton continues to round back into form. In his second game back after missing four with a broken foot, Burton had seven catches for 100 yards, both career highs. His 53-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter set up a UK touchdown, and he added an 11-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter.
"Keenan's a great player," Brooks said. "I just wish we would have had him all year."
Burton's emergence opened things up for Jacob Tamme, who came into the game with only 13 catches. Tamme turned in a career-best five-catch, 42-yard performance, including a pair of spectacular second-half grabs that kept drives alive.
Operating mostly out of the no-huddle in the second half, Woodson broke out of a slump by completing 26 of 43 passes for a career-best 335 yards and a score.
Woodson credited the no-huddle for his resurgence.
"We're a totally different offense," he said. "We feel like we can't be stopped when we go no-huddle."
Auburn's defense was victimized more than usual, but the Tigers flexed their muscle when necessary.
Jonathan Wilhite picked off an underthrown Woodson pass at the Auburn 19 to kill a third-quarter UK drive, and ends Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves each had a pair of sacks.
The Wildcats got the kind of start they needed to deliver an upset. After going three-and-out on its first possession, Kentucky got some early momentum when Smith fumbled Tim Masthay's punt and Arliss Beach recovered at the Auburn 36. Little broke left for a 25-yard touchdown run three plays later to give UK a 7-0 lead with 12:11 left in the first quarter.
UK was about to catch another break when Auburn receiver Ben Obomanu appeared to fumble at the Wildcats' 9. But replay officials ruled that Obomanu was down before he fumbled, and Irons scored on the Tigers' next play.
"He fumbled the ball," said UK's Bo Smith, who made the apparent recovery.
"It was right there in my face, and I saw the ball pop out. We were hyped. It probably changed the game to tell you the truth."
Perhaps the most costly play came in the second quarter. Prechae Rodriguez appeared to go out of bounds while running a sideline pattern against UK cornerback Antoine Huffman, then came back in and pushed off on Huffman before hauling in a pass from Brandon Cox and scooting into the end zone. Officials reviewed the play and ruled that Rodriguez was forced out of bounds, and no interference was called, resulting in a 41-yard touchdown pass and a 21-10 Auburn lead.
Archer and special teams coach Steve Ortmayer were each assessed a 15-yard penalty for arguing the call.
Calls or no calls, the Tigers were too big, too fast and too good for the Wildcats.
"They were as good as advertised," Archer said. "For us to be able to do what we did against probably the best team we've played all year is something we can build on."