Date story was published||| Sunday, November 11, 1990
Surely offensive stars shone on those post-game highlight reels, with Al Baker rushing for his now weekly eclipse of the century mark, with steady Freddie Maggard's ragged right arm tossing key completions, with Terry Samuels bulling for clock-killing first downs.
And the scoreboard read: Kentucky 28, Vanderbilt 21.
But the defense did it.
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It nearly did the home team in early. But by game's end, aided by a sideline adjustment, it was UK's salvation. Junior cornerback Gary Willis broke up a key third-down pass, ending Vandy's next-to-last series, and sophomore strike Dean Wells registered a clutch sack that virtually shut down the final drive. UK then held on to its third Southeastern Conference win of the year yesterday at Commonwealth Stadium.
"I am just very proud of this team," said head coach Bill Curry.
Tailback Baker rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Fullback Samuels added 75. And quarterback Maggard, making his first start since separating his shoulder Sept. 22, found flanker John Bolden for a 5-yard score that broke a 21-21 tie as Kentucky improved to 4-5 overall and, more importantly, 3-2 in the SEC -- the most league wins by a Cat football team since 1984.
But that wasn't all that had Curry thanking his lucky stars. With a week off to bask in a dramatic two-point victory over Georgia, the Cats entered flat and were almost flattened by the near-lethal weapon that was Vanderbilt's wishbone.
The Commodores rushed for 341 yards in outgaining the winners in offensive yards 386-378. Fullback Carlos Thomas barreled for 171 yards, including runs of 40, 34, 22, 20 and 20 yards. Quarterback Marcus Wilson (75) and halfback Mark Johnson (71) combined for 146 more.
"Poor tackling," Curry said.
"Give Vanderbilt credit, too," said defensive coordinator Larry New. "They did a heck of a job."
Thus yesterday's game leaned toward an end zone-to-end zone shootout. The last one with the ball wins.
"In the first half, I told our offense on the sidelines that we were going to have to score every time we had the football," Maggard said.
Both sides certainly tried, trading long marches for ties of 7-7 and 14-14.Kentucky drove 75 yards to take a 21-14 halftime lead, but it didn't last long. Thomas opened the second half with a 20-yard sprint and back came the Commodores on a 69-yard drive. Wilson scored on a sneak from the 1. Jeff Owen's extra point tied the knot again. This time 21-21.
"After that I said, 'That's it,' " New said. "That's when we made the adjustment."
Actually, Vandy adjusted first. The Commodores had used an offensive tackle to block both the opposing nose guard and the defensive tackle. This time, Coach Watson Brown's game plan had the tackle block the linebacker -- the same linebacker whose responsibility was to get the fullback.
"The 'will' linebacker couldn't get to the fullback," said Billy Swanson, who just happens to be the will (weak-side) linebacker.
So New tried something new, something his team had not even practiced. He told the nose guard (Joey Couch) and the tackle (Brad Shuford or Jerry Bell) to pinch off the gaps. He moved the strike (Wells) and defensive end (Derrick Thomas) in closer to the ball to cover the fullback.
He moved the bandit (Jeff Brady) and the rover (Larry Jackson) out a step on either side to take the pitch man. And he put linebacker Randy Holleran, who had been lining up as a stand-up nose guard, on the quarterback.
"That adjustment was probably the turning point defensively because I don't think they did much after that," New said. "Our players did a great job executing it."
Bill Hawk's 57-yard punt actually started Vandy's troubles, pinning the Commodores back to the 1-yard line. "If there was a turning point in the game, that was it," Curry said.
UK got the ball back at its 44 and on a crunching, methodical 15-play drive took the lead. Maggard hit his motion man Bolden on a clear-out for the 5-yard score. It was 28-21 with 10:31 left. And for the first time all day, so it remained.
Johnson started Vandy's ensuing drive with runs of 18 and 19 yards. But the fullback dive was gone. And on third-and-five from the UK 24, Wilson tried to hit wideout Clarence Sevillian on an out pattern. But Willis knocked the ball out of the receiver's hands.
"As soon as I saw it was going to be an out pattern, I put my head on him and drove to the ball," Willis said.
Owen's 42-yard field goal sailed under the crossbar and the lead remained a touchdown.
But back came the Commodores. Taking over at 5:22, two first downs took the ball to the UK 45. Johnson picked up 3 yards to the 42, then 2 more to the 40. It was third-and-five.
"They were expecting blitz," New said, "but we gave them zone and he had to hold the ball."
He being Wilson, who held on too long. Wells sacked the quarterback for a 6-yard loss. Now it was fourth-and-11 from the UK 46. Wilson overthrew Sevillian over the middle, turning the ball and the game over to the Cats.
"It was there for the taking," said Brown, his team now 1-7 overall and 1-5 in the league, "and we didn't take it. Kentucky did."
"This was the game on our schedule that caused me the most concern," Curry said afterward. "We'll be ready to play Florida and Tennessee. But I didn't know about this one. And I'm really proud of our men for digging down and doing what it takes."