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COUCH, YEAST STAR IN UK'S FINAL HOME GAME, A 55-17 ROUT OF VANDY

Date story was published: Sunday, November 15, 1998

Hal Mumme may be a master of the play script, planning out his first 20 orso snaps every week, but could even he or Spielberg or Scorsese , for thatmatter, have written a better script than yesterday?

Or do some people just know how to make an exit?

The home curtain dropped yesterday on this sweet and sassy Kentuckyfootball season with an even sweeter scenario at Commonwealth Stadium, thehost Cats trouncing visiting Vanderbilt 55-17 for a rare seventh victory, andwith their dynamic duo - UK's Air Buds - standing in the warm glow of thespotlight.

Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Tim Couch, in what might have been his final college home game, completed 44 of 53 passes for 492 yards and five touchdowns.

And Biletnikoff Trophy candidate wide receiver Craig Yeast, playing hisconference history with 201 career grabs.

"What a magnificent performance," Mumme said.

What a way to go out for a team that improved to 4-3 in the SEC and 7-3overall, marking the first seven-win Cat football season since 1984, with atrip to top-ranked Tennessee on tap for Saturday.

"It feels great," said senior safety Jeff Zurcher. "We know we're going toa good bowl, and we wanted to get a big victory today. We wanted to blow themout, to be honest with you. And we did that."

The Cats set a stadium record for points scored and racked up 679 yards oftotal offense in dropping the lowly Commodores to 2-8 overall and 1-7 in theSEC. They earned 31 first downs, scored a record 31 points in the thirdquarter, tallied two touchdowns of more than 70 yards, and even had linebackerMarlon McCree return a fumble 22 yards for a score.

In the end, however, the day belonged to the classic connection of Couch toYeast. Just when we're saying hello, they're (maybe) saying goodbye.

"I feel like I just got here last week," Yeast said. "I wish I had two moreyears."

And Couch, who could be headed to the NFL draft a year early? "I honestlyhaven't made up my mind," said the junior from Hyden.

"Besides Couch," Vanderbilt Coach Woody Widenhofer said, "Craig Yeast isthe second best player in the Southeastern Conference."

"Craig really made the plays when we had to have them," Mumme said. "Wewere struggling a little at first, trying to figure out what they were doingto us, and he made some big plays for us."

The score was tied 3-3 at the end of the first quarter, before a crispCouch bullet to Yeast for 22 yards set up a 25-yard touchdown pass from thequarterback to a resurgent Jimmy Robinson to put UK up 10-3. On UK's nextpossession, Couch burned an all-out Vandy blitz by hitting Yeast for a 20-yardtouchdown, making it 17-3 at the half.

Then in the third quarter, the flood gates opened. Or more specifically,they opened after Vanderbilt's Jimmy Williams returned a kickoff 96 yards fora touchdown, cutting the Kentucky lead to 27-17 with 6:10 left in the third.

Studying Vandy film during the week, Cats coaches suspected the Commodoresmight be susceptible to the out-and-up, where a receiver fakes an out route,then turns up the field.

"And right after they returned that kickoff," Mumme said, "we thought thetime was right."

They thought right. "The cornerback bit and the safety was nowhere to befound," Yeast said. "I almost dropped the ball."

Almost, but not quite. Result: 74-yard touchdown. What was that about Couchnot being able to throw the long ball?

"I always thought that was ridiculous," said receivers coach Mike Leach. "Idon't know all the NFL quarterbacks, but Tim can throw the ball farther thanmost of them. Joe Montana wasn't known for having a great long ball and Ithink he'll be No. 1 in the Hall of Fame whenever they put him in."

The rout was on. A 32-yard Couch-to-Garry Davis connection, in which thereceiver dragged a Vandy defender 10 yards into the end zone, made it 41-17.McCree's return of a fumble forced by Cat true freshman Dennis Johnson made it48-17.

Then the coach's son, Matt Mumme, playing in his final home game, got in onthe act. The backup quarterback hit Vincent Harrison for a 78-yard score.

"If Matt was coming back next year, I'd probably have to leave cause hemight take my job," Couch said, smiling.

"This is a real veteran offense and they're very good," said Widenhofer,whose Commodores defense led the SEC last year but has struggled with sevennewcomers this year. "When you play them, you've got to have an exceptionaldefense."

To stop an exceptional combination. Couch to Yeast or Montana to Rice? Thisseason alone, Yeast has a school-record 78 grabs. ("If Yeast doesn't getAll-American, they should stop giving that award," Mumme said.) Couch,meanwhile, has thrown for 300-or-more yards and at least one touchdown inevery game this season.

"He's definitely the best receiver ever to play in this program," Couchsaid of Yeast.

"Without Tim being here, I don't think I would have met the goals I made asa little kid," Yeast said.

Not that they are done, mind you. Two games to go. One conference. Onebowl. And as sweet as yesterday was, the script could get sweeter.

"There would be nothing sweeter," Couch said, "than going to Tennessee andgetting that eighth win in Knoxville."

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