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COUCH MAKES A STATEMENT AS CATS BLAST CARDS, 68-34

Date story was published: Sunday, September 06, 1998

LOUISVILLE - There they came yesterday, rocking and rolling down CentralAvenue, red-clad Louisville fans ready for the rising of the curtain, readyfor the party at the new Papa John's.

A couple of hours later, there they went, a red and black stream filing outthe exits as if they had sniffed out a bomb threat, seeking refuge from thesun in the sky and the scorching of their team on the field. It was halftime.And it was over.

Or, on the other side where those in blue and white were throwing an orgyof their own, was it just beginning?

"We needed to come in here and get a big win in the fashion that we won itin today," Tim Couch said. "This gets the season off to the right start."

By the time the doors closed on opening day of the new Papa John'sCardinal Stadium, Kentucky had obliterated the Cardinals' coming-out party bya stunning 68-34.

Couch, who a year ago set fire to the UK school record book, hauled out thekerosene again, declaring himself for the Heisman Trophy by completing 29 of39 passes for a school-record 498 yards, while tying his own school and SECrecord by throwing for seven touchdowns.

Receiver Craig Yeast, who appeared a possible no-show after injuring anankle on Thursday, caught nine passes for 150 yards and two scores. Sophomorefullback Derek Homer motored for 123 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

In all, Kentucky's offense decimated the Louisville defense to the tune ofa school-record 801 total yards, a school-record 571 of them through the air.Consider this: The 801 figure broke the school record set in 1951 by awhopping 155 yards.

"We went through Thursday's workout and only threw three incomplete passesall day," said UK Coach Hal Mumme, who had been saying for a week his team wasready to play somebody, anybody. "You kind of reach the point where you'redoing it so good against the scout team, you're kind of scared you're going tobe flat when you play."

What fell flat was the Cardinals' opening of their new 42,000-seat stadiumand the debut of their new head coach, John L. Smith. The host Cards led once,7-3, when quarterback Chris Redman took advantage of broken coverage in theKentucky secondary and hit Arnold Jackson in stride for a 65-yard touchdown 10minutes into the first quarter.

Three plays later, Couch scrambled , bought time behind his senioroffensive line, found tight end James Whalen crossing the middle and hit thejunior in stride.

"I just wanted to be in Tim's face," said Whalen. "When I caught it, Ididn't realize I was so wide open."

A swift 56 yards later, Whalen had scored his first Division I touchdown,Kentucky had the lead 10-7, and the rout was basically on. Whenever Louisvilletried to sneak outside and put more coverage on Yeast, Couch burned the Cardswith crossing patterns. Whenever Louisville cheated to the middle, that leftYeast in one-on-one coverage outside. Whenever the Cards ignored the run,Homer took advantage.

"We saw that they left the middle open," said Whalen. "That's just goodcoaching on our coach's part."

And good blocking on the offensive line's part. Couch was sacked just once. The junior had the time and the athletic ability to dance around , find anopen receiver, and fire. He hit sophomore Quentin McCord on an underneathcross for a 48-yard score. He rolled out of trouble and hit sophomore JermaineWhite on the dead run for a 57-yard touchdown.

Tight end Jimmy Haley made a spectacular one-handed grab at the goal linefor a 21-yard touchdown. Yeast grabbed a 15-yard touchdown with two minutesleft in the second quarter , and it was an incredible 41-10 at the half.

UK led 48-16 after three quarters, a 13-yard Couch to Yeast scoring passcapping the Cats' first possession of the second half. Then, Mumme said, "Wespent the entire fourth quarter trying to figure out how not to get peoplehurt."

Louisville was already in plenty of pain. "That was as bad a defensiveperformance as I've ever seen in my coaching career," said Smith.

Said Mumme: "They're a new staff. They just haven't had enough time."

Even for a Kentucky offense that finished second in the nation in passingand sixth in the nation in total offense a year ago, yesterday's outburst wasdownright astounding.

"We showed that we've got some guys who can make plays besides CraigYeast," said Yeast. "We made a goal to put up 42 points, and I guess we went alittle beyond that."

"We were a little sharper than I expected," said Mike Leach, UK's widereceivers coach and offensive coordinator. "But I thought we'd have a prettygood game. I thought we'd score some points, I didn't think this many, but Ithought we'd score some points."

That they did.

"This was a big statement," said senior offensive tackle Jonas Liening. "Wehad high expectations coming into this game, but we didn't really know howgood we were. We can go as far as we want to go. As long as we keep working,and taking it one game at a time, who knows what can happen?"

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