Date published: Sunday, November 23, 2003
ATHENS, Ga. -- The biggest question before yesterday's Kentucky-Georgia game wasn't which team was going to win, but whether the Cats had any fight left in them after last week's dispiriting loss at Vanderbilt.
They did. In fact, UK had first-and-10 at the Georgia 34 with a chance to tie midway through the third quarter against the defending Southeastern Conference champions.But, like countless other times in UK's football past, displays of fortitude didn't equal a win.
The sixth-ranked Bulldogs were far from overwhelming, but they made enough plays to stave off the Wildcats 30-10 in front of 92,058 at Sanford Stadium.
"I thought we competed and battled," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "You look in that locker room and see those sore bodies and it's obvious we competed our fannies off.
"We had a chance. We just couldn't make the plays we needed to at the proper time."
The loss dropped UK to 4-7 overall and 1-6 in the SEC and ended any hope of qualifying for a bowl. Instead, UK will finish its season next Saturday in Lexington against Tennessee.
Despite the Wildcats' disappointment, sophomore linebacker Chad Anderson said he never believed they would lay down against Georgia.
"If you're playing the game of football and you quit, you should be shot," he said. "I don't give a (expletive) if you're 1-11. That's what I want, players who are going to go out there and lay it on the line. I never thought we'd quit."
Yesterday, the Wildcats' resolve was tested right off the bat. On Georgia's first drive, the Dogs needed only 75 seconds and five plays to go 76 yards. David Greene hit Fred Gibson for a 41-yard gain to the Kentucky 10, and Michael Cooper followed with a 10-yard touchdown run on a shotgun handoff.
The perenially slow-starting UK offense answered in surprising fashion.
Anthony Thornton ran seven yards to the Georgia 1 on a fake field-goal attempt, setting up a Jared Lorenzen touchdown on a sneak. That tied the score at 7 with 7:34 left in the first quarter. The Bulldogs defense had not allowed a touchdown on an opponent's opening drive all season.
But after that first touchdown, the UK offense followed a different blueprint: starting fast and finishing slow. The Cats picked up 212 yards the rest of the game, including just 57 yards on 32 plays after halftime.
Relying on short screen passes to try to negate the speed of a Georgia defense, Lorenzen, who was battling the flu, completed 21 of 34 passes. But those completions went for 137 yards, an average of just more than four yards an attempt.
"We just got through playing the No. 2 defense in the country, and you can see why they are," Brooks said. "They really took it to us."
Said Georgia Coach Mark Richt: "Kentucky has always done a good job moving the ball and scoring points on us. Today was by far the best performance our defense has had against them in the last three years. To shut them down the way we did was tremendous."
Despite the low numbers, UK had several opportunities to make momentum-turning plays.
After Lorenzen's sneak, the Kentucky defense forced a three-and-out, setting up first-and-10 at the Georgia 40. But UK went three-and-out itself, capped by a Lorenzen sack for a 10-yard loss on third down.
Trailing 14-7 early in the second quarter, UK drove to the Bulldogs' 34-yard line. But Arliss Beach was dropped for a six-yard loss on a third-and-4 sweep and the Cats were forced to punt.
The Cats were in field-goal range on their next possession, but Taylor Begley's 42-yard attempt was blocked.
On UK's first possession of the second half, freshman receiver Keenan Burton dropped what seemed a sure touchdown pass from Lorenzen. The Cats settled for a 48-yard Begley field goal to close within 17-10.
The Cats' most haunting drive came after Begley's field goal. Mike Williams sacked Greene on third down, forcing Georgia to punt deep in its territory. The Bulldogs then were whistled for a fair-catch interference on the return, leaving UK 34 yards away from a potential game-tying score.
But the Cats moved the ball only two yards on their first two plays, and Lorenzen was sacked again on third down to force a punt.
"That's just their defense stepping up," Lorenzen said. "We were right there with momentum, feeling good, feeling like we really had a shot, and they just took it away from us."
From there, the UK defense had trouble making stops. Greene and his talented pack of receivers converted nine of 17 third-down opportunities, many of the conversions were from third-and-long.
Greene finished 24-for-38 for 289 yards, and the Georgia wideout trio of Fred Gibson, Damien Gary and Reggie Brown combined for 162 yards on 15 catches.
"The most disappointing thing was our inability to get off the field on third-and-long," Brooks said. "It seemed like anything they wanted to do in third-and-long, they made it work."