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CATS RECYCLE LOSING FORMULA: TURNOVER AFTER TURNOVER

Date published: Sunday, October 10, 2004

It's starting to look as if all you really need to do to tell the story of a Kentucky football game is to change the name of the opponent, because it seems as if the same thing happens every week.

UK dropped to 1-4 yesterday with a 45-17 loss at Alabama, and in each of the four losses, the Wildcats seemed to follow the same blueprint:

A) Manage to stay competitive for a half.

B) Receive countless opportunities to take control of the game.

C) Subsequently manage to blow those opportunities.

D) Commit errors that force you to lose total control of the game and get run off the field in the second half.

The Crimson Tide didn't need to do anything fancy yesterday. They stuck to the running game, played sound defense and watched UK kill itself with mind-boggling gaffes that allowed them to blow the game wide open.

The most bizarre miscue came early in the third quarter when Kentucky, trailing just 17-14, forced the Tide to punt. Freshman Dicky Lyons Jr. returned the ball to the Kentucky 40, but the Tide were called for an illegal shift, and UK Coach Rich Brooks decided to make them kick it again.

Andrew Hopewell broke cleanly through the Alabama punt protection and was directly in line to block punter Bo Freelend's kick.

But just as Hopewell dived for the block, Freelend tucked the ball in and took off for a 24-yard gain and an Alabama first down.

"I don't think I've ever seen a play like that before," UK defensive end Sweet Pea Burns said.

While declining the penalty would have given Kentucky first-and-10 from its own 40 with a chance for a go-ahead touchdown or at least a tying field goal, Brooks defended the decision to make Alabama re-kick.

"In hindsight, the thought process was I thought we could make a big play in the punting game and the punt-return team," he said. "If we didn't get that, we could have gotten a good return and even better field position. Hopewell broke through and really had the big play for us, but it turned into a big play for them."

UK did manage to dodge that bullet when the defense held and forced another punt, but quarterback Shane Boyd fumbled deep in his own territory after being hit by Wallace Gilberry, and linebacker Cornelius Wortham recovered at the Kentucky 5.

Kenneth Darby punched it in from the 2-yard line two plays later to give Alabama a 24-14 lead with 4:24 left in the third.

Brooks felt Boyd's fumble was the key momentum-shifter.

"That virtually turned the whole game in Alabama's favor," he said. "It was like a dagger in our hearts."

But that was only the opening of the floodgate.

After Kentucky went three-and-out on its next possession, Sevin Sucurovic had his punt blocked by Anthony Madison. Josh Smith recovered at the UK 12, and Darby would hit paydirt again on a 9-yard run two plays later that put the Cats in a 17-point hole (31-14) and sent many in the announced crowd of 65,482 heading for the exits.

"You could just see the air deflate out of them," Alabama safety Roman Harper said.

The Cats got a brief glimmer of hope when Andre Woodson entered the game in relief of Boyd. He led the Cats on a drive that ended in a 52-yard Taylor Begley field goal, making it a two-possession game (31-17) with 11:48 remanning.

But that momentum was quickly taken away when Tyrone Prothro ran back the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to put Bama up 21.

Woodson added two lost fumbles for good measure, one which led to Alabama's final touchdown.

"Those turned a competitive game into a blowout," Brooks said.

This was an Alabama team that had produced just one touchdown in its previous two games after losing quarterback Brodie Croyle to a knee injury. But with a deep stable of backs and a veteran offensive line, Alabama methodically plowed its way through the UK defense in the first half, running 42 plays to just 18 for Kentucky and controlling the ball for a whopping 21:40.

UK had just three first-half possessions, two of which were three-and-outs, while Bama had nearly 200 yards rushing.

UK made it easy on the Tide in the second half. Alabama's last four touchdown drives were five yards (after Boyd's fumble), 12 yards (after the blocked punt), Prothro's kickoff return, and 15 yards (after Woodson's fumble).

"Any time you get turnover after turnover, it's great," Harper said. "We just felt like we couldn't get enough of them. It's a team's dream to get that many (turnovers)."

While it might have been a dream for Harper, it was a nightmare for Brooks.

"We do not have a margin of error as a football team that we can turn the ball over and give our opponent a short field," he said. "We just can't expect to do that and have an opportunity to win football games. We did it way too many times in the second half."

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