Date story was published: Sunday, September 22, 1996
It was as if it dropped out of the dark clouds almost, a brief, sudden burst of offense on what had been a silent night.
True, it was Brian Johnson who provided the game's only points last night, booting a 26-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining to give catatonic Kentucky a 3-0 victory over Indiana at Commonwealth Stadium.
And yes, it was junior linebacker Lamont Smith's clutch interception of an errant Chris Dittoe throw with 2:08 remaining that gave the Cats one more opportunity at their first win of '96. But it was the brilliant play call three snaps before Johnson's kick that shoved UK to victory's brink.
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"We'd been setting it up all night, talking about it all night," Coach Bill Curry said, a post-game smile finally fixed upon his face. "That was the time for it."
It being second-and-nine from the IU 39-yard line, with two minutes to go. Quarterback Tim Couch, over center for his fifth straight series, slid down the left side of the line as if to run the option. And he made the pitch, all right, but not to the tailback. Instead, wide receiver Quentin McCord, another true freshman, streaking to the right side, grabbed Couch's toss on a reverse.
It was a misdirection play the Cats have run repeatedly in practice but had yet to take out of the bag during a game.
"We hadn't run the option much at all, which usually sets up the reverse," Curry said. "But we were running outside a lot and we noticed that they were chasing from the back side."
So as the Hoosiers hurried left, McCord motored right. The 5-foot-10, 155-pounder from LaGrange, Ga., covered 31 yards before Indiana free safety Aaron Warnecke caught his shoe tip at the Hoosiers' 8-yard line.
"I saw it coming," said IU Coach Bill Mallory, his team now 2-1. "But unfortunately our defensive player didn't because he was already down the line of scrimmage. It was a good call on UK's part."
Said Curry, "I thought Coach (Elliot) Uzelac made a phenomenal call."
On the next play, tailback Ray McLaurin was thrown for a 4-yard loss. McLaurin made back 3 yards on the next snap with an off-tackle run. But on third down from the 9, Curry opted to take no more chances and ended the possibility of UK's first scoreless tie (though the new overtime rule would have nixed that as a finality) since Nov., 19, 1963, against Vanderbilt.
"I asked Brian if he knew any jokes, and I thought he was going to faint," Curry said of the sideline chatter as first UK, and then IU called timeout. "He just said, "Coach, this is good as gold.' "
It was a rare golden moment for the nation's lowest-rated offense, which struggled for the third straight week. Despite the triumph, the Cats have not scored a touchdown of any kind since the third quarter of the opening-night 38-14 loss to Louisville.
Not even the notable debut of mighty-mite tailback Michael Daies, a 5-8, 190-pound true freshman who gained 92 yards on 22 carries, made much difference. Nor did the prolonged presence of Couch - his 2-for-8-for-19-yards stat line included at least four dropped passes - keep the Cats from producing just 226 yards of total offense.
"We're just struggling offensively in every way right now," Curry said.
Thank heaven then for the defense. Truth be told, last night was a night of scant offense on both sides. Florida-Tennessee this was not.
"It was just a rock 'em-sock 'em game," Curry said. "Our defense played the way you want an SEC defense to play."
Indiana tailback Alex Smith, who ripped the Cats for 221 yards here two years ago, did muscle his way for 155 yards on 33 carries. But the Hoosiers' meal-ticket could never find the end zone.
Then place-kicker Bill Manolopoulos couldn't find the uprights. Twice the senior pushed kicks wide of the mark, first from 43 yards on the first drive of the second half, and then from 29 yards with just 14:17 left in the game.
"You've got to put points on the board and we simply didn't do it," said Mallory, who joined ex-LSU head coach Curley Hallman as only the second coach to lose back-to-back games to UK in the Curry era. "I take nothing away from UK's defense. The fact is, we came away with a big fat zero on the scoreboard."
It was Rick Smith's first shutout as defensive coordinator and UK's first since a 21-0 whitewash of Mississippi in the Peach Bowl year of '93.
A repeat goose egg is not likely next week as the 1-2 Cats head to Gainesville, Fla., to meet Steve Spurrier's Gators, a 35-29 winner over Tennessee in yesterday's "Game of the Year," and a 73-7 winner over the Cats in Curry's last trip to The Swamp.
But, hey, the victorious Cats will worry about that tomorrow.
"It just feels good to get a win," said senior safety Leman Boyd. "About time."