Date story was published: Sunday, September 6, 1992
Had it stopped after three quarters, the opening night reviews would not have been too bad. Kentucky's new offense, or the portion the Wildcats revealed to the 56,800 at Commonwealth Stadium, had its moments. Kentucky's new defense did a great job, by its standards, of containing an opponent.
But football goes four quarters, even in season openers. And last night, when the Wildcats smelled blood in the fourth quarter of their 21-14 victory over Central Michigan, they backed away from the kill.
"I'm extremely disappointed that we did not sustain our concentration when we were in control," UK Coach Bill Curry said.
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Though the home team led 21-3 after three periods, it was not until Willie Cannon intercepted CMU quarterback Joe Youngblood's pass with 14 seconds remaining that the Cats had their sixth straight opening-game win, and third straight since Curry took over the program.
A 31-yard field goal by Central Michigan's Chuck Selinger cut the lead to 21-6 with 14:17 left in the game.
Next possession, the Chippewas drove 71 yards in 12 plays to make matters even more interesting. Youngblood hit wide receiver D.J. Reid with a 6-yard scoring pass. Then Youngblood found wide-out Bryan Tice on the two-point conversion attempt. That cut it to 21-14 with 6:47 remaining.
Less than a minute later, Chippewas defensive back Chad Murphy picked off an errant pass from UK quarterback Pookie Jones just inside midfield. CMU picked up a quick first down at the Kentucky 36. But on third-and-10, Youngblood was forced to scramble for 3 yards. On fourth-and-seven, Youngblood missed Reid over the middle, handing the ball back to Kentucky with 3:26 remaining.
By the time CMU got the ball again, only 46 seconds remained. Three snaps later, Cannon made the icing-on-the-cake interception. "He was the real hero," said Curry of the junior cornerback who filled in when starting safety Brad Armstead (shoulder) and backup Melvin Johnson (groin pull) were lost to injuries.
"I was pleased with the way we responded in the second half," said Central Michigan Coach Herb Deromedi. "But there is no gratification in moral victories."
The mysterious new Kentucky offense had been the story going into last night, but for much of the night the UK defense looked to have made the most strides. Central Michigan's 257 yards was the lowest total by an opponent in the 23 games since Curry became the Wildcats' coach.
From the 8:59 mark of the first quarter until the 3:16 mark of the third quarter, Cat defenders allowed just three first downs.
"We had long stretches in the game of the best defense since we've been here," said Curry.
The new offense, meanwhile, turned out to be a no-huddle variation of the Colorado/Vanderbilt I-Bone, with a one-back, three or four wide-receiver set, on passing downs.
In the first half, the new attack produced 186 yards and two touchdowns. And on the night, Jones completed 7 of 10 passes for 109 yards and one score. The sophomore also rushed for 53 yards on 18 carries. Fullback Terry Samuels gained a game-high 74 yards on 13 tries. But, in all, UK managed just 303 yards -- below even last year's SEC-low average of 312.
"We could've done a lot better," said Jones.
The quarterback did hit a wide-open Tim Calvert for a 38-yard score. "I was shocked he was that wide open," Jones said. The junior receiver was so open he bobbled the ball the final 10 yards before hitting the end zone, for the first score.
"When the corner and free safety went by me, I knew I was going to be open," said Calvert. "So I just wanted to get underneath (the ball). But I think I was so worried that I had trouble holding it."
Defensive back Steven Hall set up UK's second score when the sophomore recovered a fumbled punt by Central Michigan's Curtis Cotton at the CMU 13. Six plays later, Jones leaped into the end zone from a yard out, giving UK a 14-3 lead 8:51 before halftime.
The Cats blew a chance to tack on another score at the end of the half. After driving from its own 27 to a first-and-goal at the CMU 7, UK lost 8 yards when a flanker reverse to Kurt Johnson did not fool the Chippewas. "That was my fault," said Curry. "I liked the call, and it didn't work."
Kicker Doug Pelfrey, who hit five of six field goals inside 40 yards last year, then pushed a 31-yard attempt wide of the uprights on the final play of the half.
Still the Cats appeared to be in control when, after downing a punt at the Central Michigan 1 and holding the Chippewas without a yard, the offense moved 35 yards in just four plays. A falling Jones managed a forward pitch to tailback Clyde Rudolph that netted 22 yards to the Central Michigan 13. Three plays later, Damon Hood scored from 3 yards out to make it 21-3, with 3:25 left in the third.
But then, for whatever reason, the Cats relaxed. "I guess we felt like we had them beat, and we just played on our heels a little bit," said junior defensive end Zane Beehn. "We can't do that."
Certainly not next week, when the season's second game means a trip to defending Southeastern Conference champ Florida.
Said Curry, "This should keep us from having any illusions about how wonderful we are."