Story published: Sunday, September 25, 2005
Two things have become clear about the 2005 Kentucky football team.
A.) They stink in the second quarter.
B.) They've become awfully good at second-half rallies that salvage a wee bit of respectability out of blowouts.
Much like the season opener against Louisville, UK stormed back from an embarrassing first-half performance against Florida to inject a little life into Commonwealth Stadium yesterday. And the Cats' manhood, which had come up for debate during last week's debacle at Indiana, wasn't really an issue.
When it really mattered, the fifth-ranked Gators were too good, too fast and too strong for the outclassed Wildcats. Led by junior quarterback Chris Leak's 319-yard, four-touchdown performance, Florida left Commonwealth Stadium with a 49-28 victory to improve to 4-0 under first-year coach Urban Meyer.
"They're the best team I've seen since I've been here," said UK tight end Jacob Tamme. "They've got great athletes, and they're well-coached."
Early on, the game seemed headed toward becoming one of those 73-7 Bill Curry classics of the 1990s.
UK rode Tamme's blocked punt on Florida's first series to an early 7-0 lead, but that would be the highlight of the half for the Cats.
Florida would score on seven straight possessions, converting on nine consecutive third-down plays along the way.
Kentucky, meanwhile, turned the ball over three times in the second quarter, including a pair of interceptions by Florida linebacker Earl Everett.
And when junior running back DeShawn Wynn reached the end zone for the fourth time on a 1-yard plunge with 1:44 remaining in the first half, the Gators' lead was a robust 49-7. And many in the crowd of 66,820 began to head to the exits.
"I don't really blame the fans for leaving with the way we were playing," said senior safety Muhammad Abdullah.
But as Meyer began to clear his bench in the third quarter, Kentucky started rolling a little bit.
Glenn Holt's 5-yard score on a reverse trimmed the deficit to 49-14 late in the third. Curtis Pulley then replaced Andre Woodson at quarterback after Woodson suffered a chest injury, and Pulley scored on a pair of fourth-quarter runs that brought UK to within 21.
That prompted Meyer to re-insert Leak and the rest of the first-stringers, but UK still was able to get the ball back and drive to the Gators' 7-yard line with two minutes remaining and a chance to make it 49-35.
But Pulley's fourth-down pass in the end zone for Jacob Tamme fell incomplete, ending the Wildcats' late resurgence.
While UK's comeback might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks found some semblance of a silver lining.
"It's good to me that our players didn't give up," Brooks said. "They competed and did come back. I'd rather be building on something else, but at least it showed they have a little backbone and a little character and weren't going to give in to what was a pretty ugly situation at halftime."
Kentucky had some opportunities to maintain momentum after Tamme's blocked punt on Florida's first possession. But Antoine Huffman let a potential interception slip through his hands, and the Gators converted a third-and-10, a third-and-six, and a third-and-nine, the last of which was a 16-yard pass from Leak to Wynn to tie the score at 7.
The UK defense once again had trouble getting off the field, as Florida enjoyed a 21:12 to 8:48 advantage in first-half time of possession and outgained the Cats 437-69.
And counting yesterday's second-quarter debacle, the Cats have now been outscored 73-7 in that frame (the same score of the Gators' infamous 1994 bludgeoning of the Cats).
"Our second quarter has been killing us all year along," Brooks said.
Meyer said his team's second-half performance confirmed his fears about a lack of depth, but he also credited Kentucky for not throwing in the towel.
"They're still an SEC team, and they did the same thing on Louisville," he said.
Kentucky will now get a much-needed bye week before an Oct. 8 road trip to face Steve Spurrier and South Carolina.
"I think a bye week will be good for us," said sophomore defensive tackle Ricky Abren. "We've got some guys banged up, and we can use the extra rest and time to get a game plan together."
And 49-28 is better than 73-7, right?
"Well, it's still a loss," Abren said. "But it would have been easy to roll over and let them score 70 on us. We're fighters."