Date story was published: Sunday, September 25, 1994
In his project-the-positive post-game analysis, Bill Curry claimed to have his old Cats back. He said they were aggressive, they came off the ball, they smashed the opponent, they flew around last night at Commonwealth Stadium.
"We came back from wherever we've been, mentally, physically," said the Kentucky coach.
Trouble is, playing hard is not the same as playing well. And too often Curry's flying squadron smashed right into a tree, as UK saw its losing skid extended to three with a 23-9 loss to visiting South Carolina.
Gamecock tailback Brandon Bennett rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown and clean-cut quarterback Steve Taneyhill threw for 254 yards and two scores as first-year coach Brad Scott's team turned UK miscues into South Carolina's third straight triumph.
UK's Moe Williams rushed for 117 yards on just 12 carries and scored on a 35-yard touchdown reception. But Williams' performance was wasted by a team that turned the ball over four times -- three times on interceptions -- and was penalized an uncharacteristic eight times for 91 yards in dropping to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference.
And no blunder hurt more than a roughing-the-kicker penalty -- contested by Curry -- with about 4:30 to go, Kentucky trailing by just a touchdown, 16-9, and the visitors kicking from their 40-yard line.
Disdaining a possible punt return -- even though redshirt freshman Kio Sanford had earlier returned a punt 33 yards and a kickoff 50 yards -- UK rolled the dice, put 10 men on the line of scrimmage and went for the block, putting pressure on punter Derwin Jeffcoat.
Too much pressure, as it turned out. Sophomore strong safety Leman Boyd slammed into Jeffcoat without getting a piece of the football -- so the officials ruled and Curry later disputed. The penalty gave Carolina a first down at the UK 44.
Two plays later, Taneyhill fired a clinching 52-yard touchdown pass to Monty Means, who had gotten behind Boyd, giving Carolina the two-touchdown lead with just 3:38 left.
"We thought we could get it, and we did, we tipped the ball," Curry said. "We got it. That's just the way life works."
Asked if he thought then that the penalty should not have been called, Curry said, "I'm saying we tipped the football."
In all, UK's performance was a vast improvement over the fiascoes of the last two weeks, when first Florida (73-7) and then Indiana (59-29) placed historic pummelings on Curry's team. The Cats did hold Carolina to 206 yards rushing -- 164 fewer than they their average allowance. And Carolina's 475 yards of total offense did not match either the Gators (582) or the Hoosiers (650).
"We played our hearts out," Curry said. "That's the way you're supposed to play football. And when you play like that you improve, and when your day comes you begin to win more than your share."
Still, the result was a two-touchdown home-field loss to a lower-division conference team. And when for most of the night, Carolina either (a) hurt itself with errors or (b) appeared to have little clue as to just how how best to attack the Cats.
"We knew that the best chance to win the game was to run the ball," said Scott, the same coach who called 28 passes to 16 rushes the first half. "Stanley Pritchett and Brandon Bennett ran the ball effectively."
But the South Carolina defense did do its job protecting a 10-9 halftime lead, allowing the Cats just 18 snaps, one first down and 91 yards the second half. And 50 of those yards came on a pass from Jeff Speedy to Leon Smith (in which the junior receiver made an excellent one-handed grab) that ended in a fumble which the Gamecocks recovered.
After Smith's fumble, South Carolina extended its advantage to 16-9. The first snap of the drive, UK was called for a personal foul that moved the ball to the 48. Four plays later, Bennett broke loose for a 29-yard touchdown run -- Carolina's longest scoot of the night. The extra point was missed, but Carolina had a touchdown lead with 13:58 left to go.
That would prove to be enough. A holding penalty killed UK's next possession. The Cats went three-and-out on their next drive. After that, came the killer: the roughing-the-kicker penalty.
"I'm a lot angrier tonight, because this is a team that shouldn't have beat us," said quarterback Antonio O'Ferral, who rotated with Jeff Speedy. "We can't put up with that."
Though truth be told, the Cats never appeared to be the dominant team. It took two long returns from Sanford to set up scores. His 33-yard punt return set up a 45-yard Brian Sivinski field goal for a first-quarter 3-0 lead. His 50-yard kickoff return gave the Cats the field position that led to O'Ferral hitting Williams for a 35-yard catch-and-run score, cutting Carolina's lead to 10-9 at the half.
But after that, the UK offense sputtered badly. Williams carried just three times for 5 yards. Throw out the long pass to Smith, and the revolving door of O'Ferral and Speedy at quarterback passed for just 34 yards the second half.
"We had guys flying around tonight," said Speedy, who saw his first action after separating a shoulder in the opener. "But it wasn't enough."