Date story was published: Sunday, November 22, 1998
KNOXVILLE - It was too much to ask.
It was too much this week. It was too much for a Kentucky football teamthat had experienced five of the worst days imaginable, that had ridden a busThursday to a teammate's funeral and a day later ridden a bus to play the No.1 team in the nation.
After 13 straight losses to its talented border rival, this week of allweeks, it was just too much to ask Kentucky to beat Tennessee.
"Tennessee is a great football team," UK Coach Hal Mumme said. "Theythumped us pretty good."
In the end for Kentucky, yesterday was a drain game, the Cats drained bythe emotion of a horrible week and then whipped 59-21 by the top-rankedVolunteers.
"The sad truth of the matter is you can't go play against that great ofathletes with basically an emotionally spent team," said Mumme, whose team'sdirection came to a screeching halt last Sunday with a truck accident nearSomerset.
The accident left UK team member Artie Steinmetz and EKU student ScottBrock dead, and UK center Jason Watts facing two second-degree manslaughtercharges. Several team members attended Brock's funeral on Wednesday. Theplayers attended Steinmetz's funeral as a team on Thursday.
"I didn't know whether we were going to be emotionally charged oremotionally flat," Mumme said, "but I could tell you after the first couple ofdrives we were emotionally flat."
And subsequently flattened by a top-drawer Tennessee team that clinched theSEC Eastern Division title by improving to 7-0 in the conference and 10-0overall.
After opening the game with three plays and a punt, the machine that wasthe Tennessee offense scored on its next eight possessions. Three of thescoring plays were Jeff Hall field goals, from 27, 32 and 47 yards. Five weretouchdowns.
A wondrous Peerless Price one-hand snatch of a Tee Martin pass for a41-yard gain helped set up a Shawn Bryson 1-yard touchdown run to start theroll. Next, Martin hit Cedric Wilson for a 55-yard score. Then Bryson broke a58-yard TD run. Then reserve fullback Phillip Crosby scored from a yard out.When tailback Travis Henry scored from 2 yards out with 7:03 left in the thirdquarter, Tennessee led 45-14.
The UK offense never really clicked. The Vols took advantage of the Cats'makeshift offensive line, shooting through the gaps with enough blitzes tosack quarterback Tim Couch six times.
For the first time in the 22 games of the Mumme Era, the Cats did not get afirst down on either of their first two possessions. To make matters worse, afake punt on the first possession ended with punter Jimmy Carter running forjust 2 yards, 13 yards short of a first down.
"That was something we really thought was there and we had seen on filmactually for two years," Mumme said. "But we missed a block on their middlelinebacker and he made the play. It was just good defense on their part. Ithought we needed a couple of big plays to spark us, to get some of thatemotional charge back."
Kentucky did take a brief lead at 7-6 when an 82-yard march ended withCouch hitting Lance Mickelsen for a 3 -yard touchdown with 4:56 left in thefirst quarter.
"It was kind of like almost relief when we scored, and now we sit back fora while," Mumme said.
After that, Tennessee ran off 32 straight points until Kentucky opened thesecond half with a 77-yard TD march. Derek Homer scored on a 1-yard run. Bythen, the UT lead was 38-14.
"We wanted to make it a high-scoring game," said Couch, who completed 35 of56 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. "In a shootout we thought we couldcompete with them, but we didn't execute and their defense played a greatgame."
"We may have played our best game defensively," UT Coach Phil Fulmer said."To hold them down the way we did was special. You have to give our secondarycredit, they prepared well. We had a nice mix of zone and man defense."
But Fulmer also realized the situation facing the Cats. "I'm sure thecircumstances of the week had some effect," he said. "You have to feel forthat."
Afterward, several Cats refused to use the horrendous week as an excuse. "Iwant to make that clear," senior safety Jeff Zurcher said.
"I don't think the emotions played into it," wide receiver Craig Yeastsaid. "We just didn't play well. We didn't execute at all, not a lick."
Execution was lacking on both sides of the ball. While the offensestruggled, the defense, prone to the big play, surrendered three scoring playsof 30 or more yards.
"They hit that one pass where the kid made a great catch," defensivecoordinator Mike Major said of Price's stellar one-handed grab, "and afterthat it was kind of like 'I'm trying hard but I'm running slow.' That's whatwe feel bad about it."
"You could just see it in their eyes," Mumme said of his team. "I felt sosorry for them. But I was proud of them; they never quit battling. Craig Yeastgets his shoulder bumped and then we get an interception and he goes back in.Couch wants to go back in. They never quit battling, but they're terriblyembarrassed right now."
If also relieved.
"I think everybody is going to be glad to get to Thanksgiving," Mumme said,"and see some loved ones."