Date story was published: Sunday, September 24, 1989
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The dominance continues.
Some thought it might end. Thirty-two times Alabama and Kentucky had met on a collegiate football field. Kentucky had triumphed once. In 1922. But last year UK had come tantalizingly close. And this year the Cats had more experience, were bigger, better. Perhaps this year the Cats would tame the Tide.
Once again, as always, Alabama's dominance was destructive, a Crimson crush of a defense preying on a banged-up Kentucky offensive line, holding the Wildcats to 14 yards rushing, sacking quarterback Freddie Maggard seven times on the way to a 15-3 Tide victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"Today," said Bama coach Bill Curry, starting his third year in Tuscaloosa, "was as good as our defense has been since I've been here. We were all over the place."
And all over the Cats, who dropped to 2-1. Nose guard Willie Wyatt, end Steve Webb and linebacker Vantriese Davis each recorded two sacks. The Tide had four tackles for losses, broke up three passes and intercepted another. In all, Alabama, 2-0, held UK to 125 total yards and nine first downs.
"We knew they had a good defense and I sort of expected them to be in on me," said Maggard, the UK quarterback who was mugged for 45 yards in losses. "But every time I went back to pass I had somebody in my face. I know I should have thrown some of them away, but I couldn't. I didn't have time."
The Tide gave him none, smothering a Kentucky offensive line that played for three quarters without three starters. Tackle Mike Nord (knee injury) and center Brian Cralle (wrist) did not dress. Then in the first quarter, guard Joel Mazzella left the game with a sprained ankle. Redshirt freshman Travis Hahn played the entire second half.
"We just couldn't generate anything offensively," said Kentucky coach Jerry Claiborne. "We just didn't block 'em. No ifs, ands or buts about it."
Said Greg Nord, UK's running backs coach, "It was pitiful. There's no other word for it."
Kentucky's defense nearly matched the Crimson Tide magnificence, holding Bama to three Philip Doyle field goals through the first three quarters. Worn and weary, however, the Cat barrier finally broke in the final period. Alabama drove 69 yards in 13 plays with fullback Martin Houston scoring from a yard out. It was the first touchdown Kentucky had allowed in 10 quarters.
The Wildcats held Bama back Siran Stacy, a 169-yard sensation last week ago, to 10 yards yesterday on 12 carries. Murry Hill, Stacy's tandem at tailback, managed just 66 yards on 22 carries. Alabama's longest run of the day was 11 yards.
But UK's top gun, tailback Alfred Rawls (237 yards his first two games) managed 30 yesterday on 13 attempts. Maggard, buried or hurried on most every attempt, completed 10 of 21 passes for 89 yards.
"We lost some assignments," said Claiborne. "We were a position to kick a field goal at one point, and we turn a guy completely loose and got out of field goal range. You can't do that against a good football team like Alabama. We had a chance to make it 6-6. But we didn't do it. We didn't get the job done."
Even on the few occasions the Cats could move the football, they failed to follow through. Down 6-0 midway though the second period, Kentucky marched from its own 29 to a first down at the Alabama 11. Two plays later, third-and- 12 from the Tide 13, Maggard rolled right, spotted tailback Al Baker open in the corner of the end zone, and let rip a perfect spiral that found Baker's chest. And bounced out of bounds.
"I didn't even know he dropped it," said Maggard, who was rocked by Bama backer Keith McCants on the play. "I threw and then I got hit, so I didn't see it. I thought I might have thrown it over his head."
"I can't tell you what would have happened if Al had caught it, because it didn't happen," Claiborne said. "But I'm sure it would have picked us up."
Instead, UK settled for a 30-yard field goal from Ken Willis, cutting the lead to 6-3.
Next series, freshman Kurt Johnson, on his first collegiate punt return, sped 37 yards to the Tide 33. Two passes brought a first down at the 22. But, first, an illegal motion penalty cost 5 yards. Second play, Bama buried fullback Andy Murray for a 3-yard loss. Third play, Maggard was sacked for an 8-yard loss. Finally, Maggard was dropped for a 7-yard loss back to the 44, when two Tide ends sped through untouched to converge on the quarterback before Maggard, who appeared to be setting up for a quarterback draw, had a chance to turn around.
"We just made too many mental mistakes," said UK tackle Mike Pfeifer. "Some of 'em were mistakes we haven't made ever. We blew a fuse somewhere."
Whether it was Baker's drop or the botched assignment, Kentucky never recovered. Second-half possessions ended in an interception, three punts and on downs. On the final punt, UK thought it recovered a fumble by Hill. Dean Wells, who would later block an Alabama punt, jumped up clutching the football. But the officials ruled possession belonged to the home team.
"One official said we had the ball, but another said he had already blown it dead as Alabama's ball," said Claiborne. "That's what they told us anyway. It was just one of those things."
Not that it made much difference. This day, like nearly all 32 others between the schools, belonged to Alabama, now 30-1-1 against UK. And yesterday was a long way from a year ago when Curry's club had to rally from a 17-0 halftime deficit for a dramatic 31-27 victory in Lexington.
"We wanted to gain respect," said Vantreise Davis, the senior linebacker. "Kentucky said it wanted revenge. But we wanted revenge, too, to prove to ourselves that we could stop them."
Bama did. With standout linebacker Keith McCants drawing constant double teams, the rest of the Tide rode free over UK's patchwork line. Defensive tackle George Thornton made one tackle for a 6-yard loss. Webb's two sacks totaled 10 yards in losses. Wyatt's two totaled 16.
"Willie Wyatt," said Pfeifer, "was just awesome."
"If I had to grade us," said McCants, "I'd give us an A-minus."
"I'd give us an A," said Wyatt. "We did a great job."
And did the Tide feel sorry for the Cats? "No," said Davis. "Our defense attacks like wolves. We have no pity."
Though someone may pity the Kentucky D.
"We didn't play well enough to win, because we didn't win," said linebacker Craig Benzinger. "It's not offense and defense. It's a team. You have to play on both sides of the football."