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CATS END SEC SKID, EXTEND GAMECOCKS'

Date story was published: Sunday, September 27, 1992

So dreary was Commonwealth Stadium yesterday afternoon not even the off- and-on rain was particularly inspired. Yet the home crowd beneath the wet gear surely awoke from its soggy snooze long enough to offer a word of thanks. Thanks for the defense.

Say what? Kentucky? Thanks? Defense? A Full-Court Pressure misprint, perhaps?

No way. As the Wildcats' Stack-I turned Stagnant-I, Kentucky's once- embattled defensive unit saved the gray day, turning into humble heroes in UK's 13-9 victory over visiting and still winless South Carolina.

Often sporting a tattoo of the goal line upon its back -- thanks offense -- UK allowed but three field goals in improving to 3-1. Not since Nov. 4, 1989, (Cincinnati, in a 31-0 loss) had a Wildcat opponent failed to find the end zone. Not since Nov. 15, 1986, (Florida, in a 10-3 loss) had an SEC foe done likewise.

In fact, not since Nov. 10, 1990, (28-21 over Vanderbilt) had Kentucky even won a conference game. Ten straight league defeats had come UK's way since. Until yesterday, that is. And yes, just to clear things up, South Carolina does count. USC, 0-4 overall and 0-3 in the SEC, has the scars of proof.

"That we did not give up a touchdown under those circumstances, with that field position, was just superb," UK Coach Bill Curry said.

That was it for the accolades, however. After all, Kentucky was an unusual 10 1/2-point favorite over the hapless Gamecocks. It was fresh off a crucial 37-25 win over Indiana. USC had not won a game since George Bush was putting up positive poll numbers. Seven straight the Gamecocks had dropped, the last three by a combined rout of 93-31.

"But we knew that South Carolina was a better team than its record," Curry said.

Still, UK's offense exhibited nowhere near the firepower it displayed last Saturday. The Cats managed just 65 total yards the first half, 203 for the game. They fumbled five times, losing two. Their longest drive was 63 yards. Just three plays produced double-digit yardage.

"Lack of concentration was what the problem was," Curry said in admitting his troops suffered a letdown from last week's win. "That's my fault."

So the defense -- which allowed a school-record 439.2 yards a game last year -- had to do it. And it did. South Carolina entered UK territory five times the first half. Twice it was inside the Cat 5-yard line. It did not touch the end zone, however, settling for two Marty Simpson field goals (30 and 22 yarders) and a 6-3 halftime lead.

"We had offensive opportunities in the first half to score more than the six points we did," Gamecocks Coach Sparky Woods said.

"We call it the compete area," sophomore nose Damon Betz said of his unit's play near the goal line. "That's when it's man-to-man, helmet-to-helmet, inside the 20."

The "D" also set up UK's 3 when Willie Cannon intercepted Wright Mitchell's pass at the South Carolina 30, returning it a yard short of the end zone. "I was fighting for it," he said.

Fullback Damon Hood scored on the first snap. Only he didn't score. The Cats were whistled for having only six men (seven is required) on the line of scrimmage. Pelfrey slipped on the wet turf but nailed a 24-yard field goal.

"At halftime the defense was congratulating themselves, even though South Carolina had moved the ball," Curry said. "So we had a little attitude adjustment."

Hard sell, that Curry. So UK surrendered 100 yards the second half, 215 overall. South Carolina's only score was Simpson's third field goal, a 46- yarder.

"This was our best job of keeping up our intensity throughout the game," strike Dean Wells said.

Normally, holding a foe to single digits means victory. But yesterday was indeed iffy. UK's only touchdown drive was its first march of the third quarter. The biggest of the 13 plays was a 2-yard Pookie Jones run. Third-and- three from the Gamecock 45, the Cat quarterback broke a tackle behind the line and made it to the 43, setting up fourth-and-inches. He then sneaked 2 yards for the first down.

Five plays -- and a 15-yard pass interference penalty -- later, birthday boy Terry Samuels (22 yesterday) scored from 2 yards out, making it 10-6 UK.

Carolina cut it to 10-9 with 9:27 remaining. But with 6 minutes left, Kentucky took the ball and devoured enough clock, and yardage, to salt the game away. Sort of.

After the sore-armed Jones -- 6-for-15 for 65 yards and one interception -- threw a 16-yard pass to Kurt Johnson on third-and-six, Pelfrey booted a 35- yard field goal with 52 seconds left, making it 13-9.

As time expired, Cat corner Donald Robinson intercepted Blake Williamson's desperation pass.

A few minutes later, Bob Kesling, the SEC's TV sideline sleuth, stopped Curry for the post-game television chat. Kesling asked the UK coach for an impression of the offense. Curry looked at Kesling as if the talking head had been watching Notre Dame-Purdue instead. We were the guys in the blue shirts, Curry said. The ones dropping the ball.

Oh yeah, the blue shirts are also 3-1. That hasn't happened since 1987.

Thanks, defense.

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