Date story was published: Sunday, September 17, 1989
They promised to take North Carolina seriously. No living on last week's victory. No peeking ahead to next week's first conference clash. No giggling at the Tar Heels' 1-10 reign of '88 terror. Why Jerry Claiborne himself said his Kentucky Wildcats would need their gray matter examined if they weren't prepared to knock noggins with the visitors from Chapel Hill.
Time for a couch trip?
"We did it the hard way," said Claiborne.
Kentucky did do it. Behind a stingy defense and a 130-yard effort from tailback Alfred Rawls -- now known as "Rocket" Rawls -- the wet Wildcats outlasted a gritty North Carolina team 13-6 between rain showers yesterday at Commonwealth Stadium.
"We're 2-0," Claiborne said. "I feel real good about that."
But that was about it for Claiborne's good vibrations. Said the head man, "We've just got a lot of improving to do."
Not so much on defense. Cat defenders saved the day once more. They limited the Tar Heels to 218 total yards. They irritated Jonathan Hall enough that the Carolina quarterback completed only six of 22 passes for 42 yards. He was intercepted twice.
Better still, UK denied Mack Brown's club a single touchdown, running Kentucky's string to six straight quarters without giving up a TD. (The '87 team went eight quarters without giving up one.) North Carolina managed but two field goals from Clint Gwaltney, a 29-yarder in the second quarter and a 41-yarder in the final period. "We kept 'em out of the end zone," Claiborne said, "and that's what it's all about."
The Kentucky offense, meanwhile, did manage the game's only six-pointer, a 7-yard run by Rawls on UK's first drive. After that, however, the home team settled for first a 33-yard field goal, then a booming 50-yarder from Ken Willis.
"We just didn't get much offense generated," Claiborne said. "And when we did, we kind of messed it up ourselves."
No worse than early in the fourth period when a wide-open Phil Logan -- who two plays before had made a tough, leaping catch -- flat flubbed a lead-pipe- cinch 5-yard touchdown pass from Freddie Maggard. Next play, Willis missed the easy 22-yard field-goal attempt.
Such was UK's day. One good play ruined by two poor ones. The rain-soaked field was treacherous -- "I fell down four or five times," said linebacker Craig Benzinger. Missing was the emotion that sparked last Saturday's season- opening 17-14 victory over archrival Indiana.
"You can't be emotional every time you line up and play," Claiborne said. "It's physically impossible. But we better have a high emotional pitch next week."
Next Saturday, UK visits Alabama. The Crimson Tide, remember, rallied from a 20-7 deficit to beat the Cats 31-27 a year ago. "We've been waiting for this game for a whole year," said Logan.
As for yesterday, "Intensity-wise," said defensive guard Joey Couch, "it wasn't there like it should have been."
Hardly shocking considering North Carolina was 1-10 a year ago. True, the Heels did win 49-7 last week, but over VMI, hardly a football power plant.
So Kentucky began yesterday as if ready to return the Heels to '88. The Wildcats marched 72 yards in 11 plays. Maggard completed a 17-yard pass to tight end Mike Meece. Rawls, manuevering around and over tacklers, made a terrific 15-yard run to the 7. Next play, the senior tailback sped toward left end, beat Heel defensive backs Torin Dorn and Reggie Clark to the corner and scooted in for the score. Not five minutes had elapsed.
Of UK's next 10 possessions, however, six ended in punts, three in field- goal attempts. The final drive, thanks to a 3-yard Maggard sweep on fourth- and-one at the UNC 31, ran out the clock.
"(North Carolina) started playing better and we just didn't get the job done," Claiborne said. "We didn't block as well as we should."
North Carolina was no better. Instead of the wide-open attack the Brown boys (Mack and brother Watson at Vandy) are known for, UNC stuck to up-the- gut, using 39 rushing plays, compared with 22 pass attempts.
"They took it straight at VMI and had success so I guess they just stuck to it," Benzinger said.
"They didn't have much time to throw the ball downfield," Claiborne said. "We put a great deal of pressure on their passer. That's what we planned to do. And I thought we played pretty good pass defense, too."
A Chris Tolbert interception killed Carolina's first drive. After a punt, the Heels did move 52 yards for Gwaltney's first field goal, making it 7-3. Willis answered with a 33-yarder to make it 10-3, 4:02 before halftime.
Then, on its last possession of the first half, Brown's team moved to the UK 32, facing a third-and-inches with 11 seconds remaining. Instead of one more play to get closer, Brown opted for a field goal.
"The decision was: Do you take a shot for a touchdown?" Brown said. "Right now, I didn't feel our passing game -- under the weather conditions -- is at the point where we could take a shot at a touchdown."
The field goal, however, never got a shot at the goal posts. UK's Jeff Brady, junior outside linebacker, broke through to block the kick. "It was a low kick," he said. "I just came around from the outside and got both hands on it."
Willis' 50-yard field goal, longest of his career, made it 13-3 with 8:29 left in the third quarter. But three possessions later, the score the same, the Cats blew their chance to place some meat on the margin. Albert Burks picked off a Hall floater at midfield and returned it 13 yards to the UNC 37.
Two plays later, Logan made his leaping 17-yard grab at the 5. Two plays and a loss of 2 yards later, there was Maggard rolling left and there was Logan so wide open in the left corner of the end zone that "he could have written a book while he was waiting to catch it," Claiborne would say. "Freddie laid the ball out there perfect."
Logan dropped it.
"I ran my route and I saw the ball coming; I was so wide open I got excited," said the junior. "As soon as the ball hit my hands, it seemed like I blanked out. Next thing I know, I was bobbling the ball."
A falling Logan nearly atoned for his error by snatching the still-airborne ball before it hit the ground. "I looked back up at it and I was going to catch it again," he said. "But I got drilled and missed it."
"If we had scored I think that might have taken something out of (Carolina)," Claiborne said. "But they just kept right in there battling and took it to the wire."
In fact, Carolina's last possession was a 56-yard march for Gwaltney's 41- yard field goal with 2:34 remaining. That cut the lead to seven points. But the Tar Heels never got the football back, Maggard executing the fourth down sweep that allowed UK to run out the clock for the win.
"But we can definitely play better," Benzinger said. "We're going to have to."