Date story was published: Sunday, October 20, 2002
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Kentucky Coach Guy Morriss figured that at some point his football team would have to stop shooting itself in the foot.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
But after watching key mistakes and mental breakdowns cost the Cats in back-to-back losses to Florida and South Carolina, and after watching those same kinds of blunders contribute to a 10-9 halftime deficit at Arkansas yesterday, he had to wonder.
Morriss might want to write Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt a thank-you note, however, because in the second half Nutt's team took the gun out of UK's hands and turned it on itself.
The Razorbacks outgained the Cats 515-332 yesterday, but turnovers and special teams breakdowns set up an early third-quarter UK barrage that pushed the Wildcats (5-2, 1-2 SEC) to a 29-17 win in front of 61,573 fans at Razorback Stadium. It marked UK's biggest SEC road win since a 39-36 victory at LSU in 1998.
"We gave up too many yards; we know that," Morriss said. "But the bottom line is we only allowed 17 points, and we hung in there and found a way to win."
Morriss said he tried to keep up his players' spirits in practice this week by telling them it was mistakes, not a lack of talent or ability, that was costing them games. His message came to fruition yesterday.
"The thing that was really good was for the last two weeks we have been preaching to them that we have to eliminate mistakes, be a disciplined football team, hold on to the football, all those old cliches that you hear coaches talk about," Morriss said.
The Razorbacks had all the momentum coming out of the halftime break, but UK safety Mike Williams picked off a Matt Jones pass on the first play of the third quarter and returned it 16 yards to the Arkansas 12.
On the next play, Artose Pinner, who was held to a season-low 67 yards on 26 carries, burst through a pair of arm tackles at the line of scrimmage and took it in to put the Cats on top 16-10.
The UK defense then held, and junior Derek Abney returned the ensuing punt 86 yards to make it 22-10 UK with 11:17 left in the third. That allowed the Cats to turn a one-point deficit into a 12-point lead in less than four minutes while running just one offensive play.
"I think the punt return for a touchdown is what really jump-started us and pushed us on to winning the ball game," Morriss said.
Nutt, on the other hand, sounded much like Morriss had the past two weeks.
"We had too many mistakes and too many missed opportunities," he said.
The Cats looked like they were headed down a familiar road the first 30 minutes when they drove deep into Arkansas territory four times but only had nine points to show for it.
Taylor Begley kicked a 49-yard field goal on the Wildcats' first possession. UK was on the verge of taking a 10-0 lead when quarterback Jared Lorenzen found Ernest Simms on a quick screen around midfield and the 5-foot-8, 170-pound speedster broke into the open field toward the end zone.
But Arkansas cornerback Ahmad Carroll took an angle on Simms, grabbed his jersey from behind, poked the ball out of Simms' hands and recovered the ball at the Razorbacks' 14.
It took Arkansas just two plays to take the lead. Fred Talley broke off right tackle for a 52-yard gain, and fullback Mark Pierce rumbled up the middle for a 34-yard touchdown on the next play for a 7-3 Razorback lead with 7:49 left in the first quarter.
Kentucky helped Arkansas put three more points on the scoreboard when it forced a punt but had 12 men on the field to extend the drive. Arkansas' David Carlton kicked a 26-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter to put the Hogs up 10-3.
Begley hooked a 23-yard field goal wide right on UK's next possession, but the Wildcats got a 4-yard touchdown pass from Lorenzen to Tommy Cook 1:15 before intermission to close within 10-9. Morriss said he felt pretty good despite the fact that Begley's potential game-tying extra point was blocked.
"We had made every mistake you could possibly make in a football game and were only down by one point," he said.
Following Abney's return, Arkansas closed to within 22-17 with 8:03 left in the third when Dearrius Howard's 1-yard run capped a nine-play, 65-yard drive.
But then Arkansas made another miscue. After forcing a Glenn Pakulak punt at the Razorbacks' 48, Decori Birmingham fumbled the kick and Cook fell on it at the 17. Lorenzen connected with Boone on a middle screen for an 18-yard scoring play to give UK a 29-17 lead with 3:56 left in the third quarter.
Arkansas had chances to get back in the game in the fourth quarter, but it couldn't get anything going. Talley followed his spectacular 241-yard performance against Auburn last week with 182 yards on 24 carries. But Jones and backup Tarvaris Jackson couldn't generate enough out of the passing game to spark a comeback.
And now instead of being of 4-3 and on a downward spiral with No. 5 Georgia set to visit Commonwealth Stadium next week, the Cats are 5-2 and on an uptick.
"I think we're finally getting over that hump of going out and hoping and playing tentative in the fourth quarter," Boone said. "I think we're going out knowing that we should win."