Date story was published: Sunday, October 24, 1993
ATHENS, Ga. -- All afternoon Kentucky had struggled to just keep it together, to keep 11 healthy defensive players on the field at one time, to keep this darn Eric Zeier from going completely nuts, to merely keep standing in a hurricane pace, until in the end yesterday the Cats tripped upon their own loose threads.
Zeier, Georgia's superb quarterback, threw for an eye-popping 425 yards and three touchdowns as a surging Georgia won its third straight game by snapping Kentucky's three-game win streak, 33-28 at Sanford Stadium.
After Zeier's 8-yard pass to tight end Shannon Mitchell with 13:17 left put the now 4-4 Bulldogs ahead one last time, linebacker Charles Clemons preserved the victory by intercepting UK quarterback Pookie Jones on the Georgia 17-yard line with nine seconds remaining.
But as brilliant as Zeier was -- "One of the best quarterbacks I have ever seen," said Kentucky Coach Bill Curry, his team now 4-3 -- the visitors had chances to win down the stretch, only to be done in by missed opportunities, a pair of special team failings and a poor case of clock management.
"This was a lot like Mississippi State," said quarterback Pookie Jones, referring to last year's 37-36 loss to that breed of Bulldogs. "But this game, I felt like we let it slip away."
Kentucky lost five defensive players (both starting cornerbacks, Willie Cannon and Don Robinson; both buck linebackers, Darryl Conn and David Snardon; and backup middle linebacker Matt Neuss) to injury in the first half alone. The Cats were twice burned for touchdowns while trying to blitz Zeier -- the cool quarterback hit Brice Hunter for a 61-yard score on the first; Hason Graham for a 27-yard touchdown on the third.
The Cats even saw a timeout they called late in the first half backfire when Georgia Coach Ray Goff, facing a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line with nine seconds left, used the time (with urging from the crowd and his players) to scrap his decision to go for a field goal, send his offense back on the field, and watch Terrell Davis score from a yard out for a 24-21 lead.
"We were trying to ice the kicker," said Curry afterward, though defensive coordinator Mike Archer took the blame, saying he called the timeout because in the confusion he didn't think he had enough players on the field.
Georgia total yards first half: 328.
Zeier: 289, on 17 of 25 passes.
And yet, despite all that, the Cats still had a chance to win. They even took a 28-27 lead and appeared ready to tack on more when linebacker Marty Moore picked off a Zeier pass and returned it 35 yards to the Bulldog 18-yard line with 2:51 left in the third quarter.
That's where it began to fall apart. First the offense stalled, and place-kicker Juha Leonoff pushed a 29-yard field goal wide right.
UK got the ball right back near midfield to start the final period, but on fourth down, Leon Smith's snap was too low for punter Dan Ariza to handle smoothly. ("It just took a weird hop," Ariza said, "and when I tried to roll out and kick it, they knocked it away.") Georgia's Whit Marshall picked up the loose ball and returned it 21 yards to the 8. Two plays later, Zeier found Mitchell for the score.
And yet, after twice more forcing Georgia into three-plays-and-out, Kentucky had one more chance. Starting on its own 23 with 3:48 remaining, the Cats burst up the field with tailback Moe Williams taking a dangerously late pitch from Jones and bolting down the sideline to the Georgia 45, good for 30 of his 159 rushing yards. Two plays later, Williams appeared to be stopped up the middle, but somehow spun free and picked up 11 yards, giving UK a first down at the Georgia 31.
But on first down, Jones was forced out of the pocket and heaved a throw- away pass just past Matt Riazzi in the end zone with 1:48 left. On second down, Williams got 3 yards up the middle, the clock still running. Quickly Jones tried to set his offense, but in the noise and confusion -- the clock still running -- "we had a formation bust," said offensive coordinator Daryl Dickey later, and with one tick left on the play clock, Jones was forced to call a timeout.
Forty-eight seconds had passed, leaving only 50 to go.
"We couldn't afford a penalty there and I thought we were going to get one (for having too many men on the line of scrimmage)," said Jones.
"That was the key play from a clock standpoint," said Dickey.
After the timeout, Georgia linebacker Randall Godfrey dragged down Williams for a 2-yard loss. It was fourth-and-7, but again the Cats decided not to use their final timeout. "We wanted to save it in case we completed the pass," Curry said later.
The pass was caught, not by a Cat, but by Clemons, the Bulldogs' mike linebacker. "I was able to read Pookie's eyes," said Clemons, simply.
To read them afterward was to read frustration and anger. Not that he was alone, on a day when the Cats tried to keep it together, but fell to the loose threads that make up a loss.