Date story was published: Sunday, October 8, 1989
To swipe a storyline from the Rolling Stones, those middle-aged, corporate-sponsored British rock n' rollers currently on tour, Auburn's 24-12 victory over Kentucky yesterday could all be summed up in mixed emotions.
Auburn smoked out of the starting gate, then cooled off. Kentucky's beleaguered offense moved the football, but rarely scored. There were eight turnovers, two missed field goals and a blown extra point. The home team's best runner produced negative yardage. And Auburn's supposedly superior defense allowed UK's attack more first downs than the visitors themselves manufactured.
Said Auburn coach Pat Dye, "It lacked a lot of being a thing of beauty, that's for sure."
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It was, however, a Tiger triumph, the 11th straight for the Plainsmen over the boys of the Bluegrass. Auburn rode Reggie Slack's first-quarter air show to an early cushion, then relied on a defense that gave blood but not points, holding off Kentucky yesterday at Commonwealth Stadium.
Slack, the senior quarterback, completed five of seven first-quarter passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Up 14-0, the 11th-ranked Tigers concentrated on the necessary, converting 10 of 16 third downs while holding Kentucky to a 6-of-12 success rate on Big Thirds for the win.
Kentucky's injury-riddled attack, meanwhile, did produce 20 first downs and 305 total yards. Mainly through the air. Tailback Alfred Rawls, averaging 89 yards per game, was stuffed for a minus 3 yards on 11 carries. But coming off a seven-sack burial in Tuscaloosa, Cat quarterback Freddie Maggard completed 18 of 29 passes for 217 yards.
"We threw more by design," said Maggard. "We saw some weaknesses in their secondary and we thought we could exploit them. For the most part, it worked out pretty good."
But not in critical spots. Though UK drove the football six times inside the Auburn 30-yard line, the Wildcats scored only twice.
"We moved the ball well at times," said UK coach Jerry Claiborne, "but we didn't make the big plays when we had to have them."
Thus, with apologies to the Rolling Stones, the mixed emotions.
Said Dye, "We are a long way from being a polished football team."
Said Claiborne, "There was a lot of good hitting today, but both teams made too many mistakes."
Auburn, a surprising 21-14 loser last week at Tennessee, improved to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky, an ineffective 15-3 loser to Alabama last time out, dropped to 2-2 and 0-2 in league play.
Though still stinging from last week's loss, yesterday's victory keeps Auburn alive in its quest for a third consecutive conference crown. "Two losses in a row would have made for a long season," said linebacker Craig Ogletree.
Kentucky, meanwhile, continues to patch up its crippled offensive line -- three starters (center Brian Cralle, tackle Mike Nord and tight end Mike Meece) sat out yesterday with various ailments. But the Cats did have two weeks to right itself after the Bama battering, regain some pride and earn some conference respect. Said cornerback Albert Burks, "This was a big test for us."
UK promptly flunked the first quarter. On Auburn's second possession, Slack found UK cornerback Chris Tolbert hooked up one-on-one with Tiger Alexander Wright. Tolbert is fast. Wright is faster, a reported 4.19 in the 40-yard dash. Wide open in the end zone, the Tiger dropped Slack's 29-yard strike.
But a tone was set. Lacking speed, Kentucky turned to zone coverage. And if the strategy was right, execution went wrong. On the same drive, from the 25, Slack threw a 7-yard pass to wide receiver Greg Taylor. Outside linebacker Tony Massey missed the tackle. Tolbert missed on a Taylor fake. Safety Ron Robinson missed on the sideline. Taylor scored. Auburn led 7-0.
"We were trying to keep them from the long pass," said Claiborne. "We had good coverage but we had a lot of missed tackles."
Next possession, same thing. Slack found freshman Pedro Cherry, who made a honey of a run for a 36-yard score. A yard after catching the ball at the 16, Cherry evaded the efforts of a pair of UK defensive backs (Brad Armstead and Sterling Ward) to score. Auburn led 14-0.
UK could have quit. It didn't. With 8:27 left before half, Burks stepped in front of Auburn's Shayne Wasden and intercepted a Slack pass at the Tiger 16. Momentum changed. Four plays later, fullback Andy Murray scored from the 1. Auburn's Darrel Crawford blocked Ken Willis' extra point kick. But the good news: Kentucky was on the board.
The bad news: scoring should have happened long before. On five of six first-half possesions Kentucky moved inside the Tiger 40. Bad plays killed four of the five.
Examples: First possession, third-and-one at the Auburn 19, UK lined up in its three-back, try-and-stop-us Power I. Auburn stopped them, throwing Rawls for a 2-yard loss. Then the normally dependable Willis missed the 38-yard field goal.
The others: Rawls fumbled at the Auburn 38. Two drives later, after three straight Maggard completions of 18, 16 and 14 yards, Rawls was thrown for another 2-yard loss. The possession after the touchdown, UK moved to the Auburn 40. But on third and 8, the Tigers sniffed out a screen pass to bury Murray for a 7-yard loss.
It was more of the same in the third quarter. First drive, UK marched from its 22 to the Tiger 21 before defensive back John Wiley picked off a tipped Maggard pass. Auburn gave the ball right back when Jeff Brady recovered Chris Gray's fumble at the visitors' 22. But on third and 2, Auburn linebacker Quentin Riggins turned Maggard's late option pitch to Al Baker into a 4-yard loss. And Willis missed a 34-yard kick.
"They'll let you have the short stuff but they made a lot of adjustments inside the 30," said Maggard. "Past the 30, they tightened down and played tough defense."
"Neither one of us could take advantage of the other one's mistakes," said Claiborne. "Finally, they did."
The Tigers marched 83 yards on 14 running plays and one pass. Tailback James Joseph, who rushed for 84 yards on the day, had a 23-yard run to the five. Stacy Danley scored from the 1.
Maggard then engineered an 85-yard scoring drive in 14 plays. He completed seven of eight passes. Murray scored from the 1. It was 21-12 with 4:41 left.
But with UK going for two points, Ogletree dropped Maggard 2 yards from the goal line. Now in need of two scores, the Cats went for the onside kick. Willis' squibber failed to cover the necessary 10 yards. Auburn ball. Tiger game -- a 40-yard field goal from Win Lyle completed the scoring.
"We were concentrating more today and weren't as emotional," said Slack, who hit on 15 of 22 passes for 178 yards. "We knew to have a shot at winning the conference, this was a game we had to win."
And as for the home team, "We're disappointed we lost," said Burks. "But I think our offense gained some confidence today. We've got seven games left."
The hope being that time is on their side.