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UK SHOWS PROMISE DESPITE 51-35 LOSS TO NO. 8 FLORIDA

Date story was published: Sunday, September 27, 1998

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - They gathered at game's end in the far corner of theend zone, a blue-clad cast of dissenters, giving their own team a vocalushering from the field. Downcast they were not.

"Go Big Blue" went the chant from the Kentucky fans as Cat players walkedunder the canopy and into the tunnel toward the locker room, their departuresfollowed by a "C-A-T-S, Cats, Cats, Cats."

Up above, on the giant scoreboard at the south end of Ben Hill GriffinStadium, the scoreboard read: Florida 51, Kentucky 35.

Given the reaction of the blue-clads in the corner, however, one might havethought the roles were reversed.

"We might not have championship-type talent on this team," UK Coach HalMumme said, "but I know we've got championship-type attitude."

"This is the toughest place in the country to play," quarterback Tim Couchsaid. "Florida has the toughest defense in America, and this is the loudeststadium in America. I think this will give us confidence that we can competewith anyone in the country."

It didn't give the Cats a win. No upset here. Not yesterday. Theeighth-ranked Gators saw to that, extending their home-field winning streak to24 games by stringing together a trademark Floridacatch-up mode.

"They picked on my youngsters," defensive coordinator Mike Major said.

Indeed, Steve Spurrier's reversible jacket of quarterbacks Doug Johnson andJesse Palmer combined to throw for 452 yards and seven touchdowns - Johnsontossed five, Palmer two - as the Gators improved to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in theSoutheastern Conference.

Three of those TD tosses came in that second-quarter spurt. The game stilltied at 14-14 after UK's Seth Hanson missed a 39-yard field goal, Gatorwideout Nafis Karim got a step on sophomore corner Eric Kelly and hauled in a37-yard pass from Johnson to put Florida in front with 7:41 left in the half.

The combined (mis)fortunes of a penalty on the kickoff, the Floridadefense, and the Gator crowd noise backed the UK offense up to its own 1.Jimmy Carter's punt started Florida at the Kentucky 41. First play, Karim gota step on true freshman David Johnson and grabbed a 41-yard scoring pass fromPalmer with 6:07 left.

Bad became worse. The ensuing kickoff bounced off UK receiver James Whalen,who looked like a baseball catcher trying in vain to find a wild pitch.Florida's Joe Ferguson found it first at the Cat 23-yard line. Three playslater, Karim beat sophomore Jeremy Bowie for a 9-yard scoring pass, this onefrom Johnson, to make it 35-14.

"Our whole game plan was to keep it close at halftime," said Marvin Major,UK's senior defensive tackle. "That killed us right there."

But the Cats didn't play dead, not in the same way they quickly folded thetents on their last two trips to the savage Swamp, 73-7 and 65-0 pillages in'94 and '96, respectively.

By the final horn, Couch had completed 40 of 61 passes for 406 yards andthree touchdowns. And splendid wide receiver Craig Yeast had turned in aphenomenal day, returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and scoring onTD passes of 97 and 74 yards. "He was awesome," said an admiring Mumme.

And when Yeast turned in the 74-yarder - snatching a Couch rocket at theKentucky 40, then turning up the field to blaze past the Gators for the score- Kentucky trailed just 42-28 with 6:13 left in the third quarter.

"We thought if we could go into the fourth quarter only down by 14, we'dhave a great chance to win," Mumme said.

Alas the deficit was three TDs. An onside kick failed, giving Florida theball near midfield. Two plays later, freshman tailback Robert Gillespie took ashort Johnson pass, found a lane and motored 47 yards for the score. Even withthe missed extra point, Florida led 48-28.

The Cats' best drive of the day, a methodical 15-play, 83-yard march,pulled the visitors to within 48-35 with 13:20 left when Couch found GarryDavis in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown.

Kentucky got the ball back two more times with the score the same. But theFlorida defense held, forcing a four-plays-and-punt possession followed byTeako Brown's interception of a Couch pass that glanced off the fingertips ofKevin Coleman.

"You look at it and our defense," said Mumme, "they gave us two stops andwe ended up with an interception and a punt. We had our chance to win."

Yet surely any realistic upset hope faded in that suicidal second quarter,when the Cats tried and failed to take the Gators one-on-one, and Spurriertook advantage.

"We blitzed and they only sent three receivers out there and got our guysin a footrace, and they won 'em," said Major, whose self-professed game planwas to make Florida throw the ball. "They're a great team."

"We're still a recruiting class away on defense," Mumme said. "(But) theway our guys played, particularly in the fourth quarter, they tightened upthat coverage quite a bit. We knew we'd get beat some, we were hoping wewouldn't get beat too much."

Beaten, but in the end, not pounded.

"They definitely know we played them," said center Jason Watts. "They knewwe were here."

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