Date story was published: Sunday, October 29, 1989
ATHENS, Ga. -- Here Kentucky was heading into arguably its most important game of the season. And darned if Jerry Claiborne, quite innocently, didn't have to jinx it all, go and say his football Wildcats had yet to play a bad game.
No more. Yesterday placed an obvious cancel stamp on that. Under a bright sun at Stanford Stadium, UK played as if in the Halloween dark, squandering a golden offensive opportunity early, missing key tackles and blowing point- blank field goals on the way to a 34-23 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs.
Said Dawg defensive back Ben Smith, "They looked shocked."
Kentucky had every reason to be. Georgia tailback Rodney Hampton rolled for 184 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Greg Talley completed 11 of 19 passes for 172 yards and a score. The Bulldog defense, led by tackle Bill Goldberg and safety Smith, held UK at bay as the supposedly less-than-vintage Bulldogs built a 27-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
"This was the first day where we didn't have good intensity," said Claiborne afterward. " Our effort was there. There are certain times when your effort can be there but still the intensity is not there. I don't think our kids quit. They battled right to the end of it.
"But we didn't have that excitement. And we need to play with that intensity for us to win. I don't know why we didn't. But it wasn't there."
At least not after UK's tide-turning first series. On the game's opening play, Kentucky defensive tackle Oliver Barnett hit Talley, causing an errant wobble of a pass that found Cat linebacker Jeff Brady for an interception. Three plays later, Kentucky was first-and-goal at the Bulldog 5. And didn't score.
Three running plays produced 1 yard. A Georgia offside penalty added 2 more. And it was fourth-and-goal inside the 2. Claiborne played for the points. And still UK didn't score. Ken Willis' 19-yard attempt went wide right. "That was a big, big plus," said Smith. "The momentum went away from them after that. They never got it back."
"I think unconsciously, it did effect us," said Barnett. "Our intensity slipped away from us."
As for Georgia: 'It was like, let's forget what happened and start this game all over," said Talley. "It was a fresh start."
Kentucky, with senior quarterback Chuck Broughton at the controls, did score to cut the lead to 27-17 with 4:14 remaining. And, after Hampton had scooted 35 yards for Georgia's final score, UK's freshman flash Kurt Johnson ran back a kickoff an incredible 108 yards for a touchdown. But it was far too little, way to late.
Consequently, UK's depressing road totals increased to: 14 straight road defeats, 15 straight conference losses away from home.
With Peach, Liberty and Hall of Fame Bowl scouts on hand, Kentucky dropped to 4-3 overall, 1-3 in the conference. Georgia improved to 4-3 overall. The Bulldogs are 3-2 in the conference.
"This was a tremendous game for us. Huge," said Georgia's Goldberg. "We had to win it. No question about it. We just wanted to control the offensive line and hit 'em hard. No funny business."
Last year's 16-10 loss in Lexington was not to be forgotten, as well. "We always want to win, period," said Ben Smith. "But what happened up there was an added motivational factor. It just made us work harder."
And yet the Dogs got off to that dreadful start. On the first play, UK's Barnett barreled into Talley just as the arm of the Georgia quarterback went forward. The ball popped out as if it was an infield fly. UK's Brady made the catch at the Georgia 39.
On the second snap, Alfred Rawls rumbled 10 yards for a first down. Then quarterback Freddie Maggard hit sideline-straddling Steve Phillips with a nifty 21-yard pass to the 5.
But as has been so often the case, UK couldn't push it in. Rawls was stopped for no gain. Georgia jumped offsides, moving the ball to the 3, but two mashes up the middle by fullback Andy Murray failed to reach the 1. It was fourth-and-goal.
"We begged the coaches to go for it," Rawls said. "It was the first quarter. We didn't have anything to lose. But it's the coach's call. He has to make the decision."
"We considered going for it," Claiborne said. "But we wanted to at least get the points. And our kicking game had been very, very effective for us. We'd get the three points and we'd still have the momentum."
But UK didn't. Willis' sure-thing was no sure thing. Kentucky slumped. Georgia surged.
For openers, the Dogs gained control of the field position. Their third and fourth possessions began in UK territory. On the fourth, Georgia scored. From the UK 34, Talley caught the Cats in a safety blitz and hit wide-out Arthur Marshall one-on-one with cornerback Chris Tolbert on the right sideline. Tolbert missed the tackle. Marshall motored in untouched.
"It was a sight adjustment," said Talley. "We knew from watching films that if we could get the ball out there where he could make a move on their guys, good things would happen. After that, they backed off. They played us different after that."
Which in turn popped Hampton loose. Two minutes into the second quarter, the junior went 18 yards for a score. "I felt better today than I have all year," said Hampton, who underwent knee surgery three weeks ago. " I could make cuts better today."
Here, things turned from bad to worse for Kentucky. Maggard lost his aim. On second-and-one at the Georgia 35, he threw into double coverage and was picked off in the end zone by Smith. Two possessions later, he telegraphed a short pass for Rawls and was picked off by cornerback George Wynn at the UK 22. John Kasay kicked a 20-yard field goal. Georgia led 17-0.
When Maggard rediscovered his radar, UK's hands turned to stone. The Cats marched from their 20 to the Dog 20, where Maggard hit Neal Clark in the right corner of the end zone. Alas, the ball popped out. UK settled for Willis' 37- yard field goal and it was 17-3 at halftime.
But sorry, no comeback in the second half. Hampton shook loose again, this time taking a pitch down the right side 20 yards for a score. Georgia 24-3. Six minutes later, Kasay booted a 32-yard field goal. Georgia 27-3.
After that, UK could do little more than make the final count respectable.
"We just played a bad game," said Claiborne. "We just didn't have the intensity we've got to have to play good. We've got to have it."
Yesterday, for the first time this year, Kentucky did not.