Date story was published: Sunday, October 30, 1988
It was not the Wildcat walkover many expected it to be. Kentucky hardly thrived. Yet it did survive, slipping past spunky Southern Illinois 24-10 last night in Commonwealth Stadium.
Tailback Alfred Rawls rushed for 91 yards and two scores, and the UK defense overcame a first half of confusion to shut down the Salukis as Coach Jerry Claiborne's Cats evened their record at 4-4.
Rawls' 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, after a 12-yard Saluki punt, put the home team in front to stay. A 32-yard Ken Willis field goal early in the final period made it 17-7. Ivy Joe Hunter added Kentucky's final score with a 3-yard TD run with 9:45 left.
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But easy this was not. Though Rawls ripped off another fine effort and Al Baker gained a career-high 79 yards, the UK offense was consistently inconsistent. "We were lackadaisical," said fullback Andy Murray. "We weren't putting them away."
And the Cat defense had problems with Southern Illinois' no-huddle/wishbone attack. At halftime the game was knotted at 7. "We kind of overlooked them," said Donnie Gardner, a Kentucky defensive tackle. "We weren't mentally ready to play in the first half."
That was somewhat expected, and certainly feared. After all, the Wildcats were coming off an uplifting 16-10 upset of then 11th-ranked Georgia. And SIU is a Division I-AA opponent -- from the Gateway Conference -- that entered last night's contest with a 4-3 record.
Adding to their overconfidence, UK came out and did something it had not accomplished all season: score a touchdown on its first drive. The Wildcats marched 55 yards in 10 plays. Quarterback Glenn Fohr hit Alfred Jones with an 18-yard pass to the SIU 15. Two plays later, Rawls scored from 9 yards out. Kentucky led 7-0.
But if the Cats weren't up for the Salukis, they were also not prepared for SIU's attack offense that skipped huddling in favor of calling the play at the line of scrimmage, a la Sam Wyche and the Cincinnati Bengals.
"We hadn't practiced against it during the week," said linebacker Chris Chenault, a UK senior. "It caught us off balance. We had a lot of people panicking too quick. We had guys arguing, trying to figure out what to do."
"At first it really bothered us," said Randy Holleran, Chenault's running mate at linebacker. "We were trying to get guys in position and we were yelling at each other and stuff."
SIU kept its head and took advantage. And with a quarterback making his first collegiate start no less. Fred Gibson, Southern Illinois' regular quarterback, was back in Carbondale nursing a strained knee. So first-year coach Rick Rhoades started first-year player Scott Gabbert, a true freshman.
All the rookie did was methodically march the Salukis from their own 30 to a second-and-goal at the Wildcat 4. There, however, Gabbert fumbled the football. Chenault recovered.
Next drive, the Salukis marched again. Fullback Chuck Harmke, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior who rushed for 105 yards on 17 carries, burst free for a 40- yard gain to the Wildcat 20. A seven-yard Gabbert run gave the visitors a first-and-goal at the 8. A pass-interference penalty called on UK cornerback David Johnson gave SIU a first-and-goal at the 2. The penalty came on a third-and-goal and on a fade pattern reminiscent of one of Alabama's touchdown passes in the Crimson Tide's comeback earlier this month (same corner of the same end zone, even). Next play, freshman halfback Garrett Hines scored. John Bookout's extra point tied it at 7.
UK did reach the Southern Illinois 17 late in the second quarter. But on fourth-and-one, halfback Ivy Joe Hunter was stopped by SIU linebacker Kevin Kilgallon for no gain.
"He didn't really scream out of his mind," Holleran said of Claiborne's halftime talk. "He just told us what we were doing wrong."
"We didn't do anything different," Claiborne said of the second half. "We just did it better."
Not right away. After the Kentucky defense stopped the Salukis' first possession, SIU punter Troy Gutterridge managed to shank a kick that landed directly on the helmet of backup UK tackle Jim Graves. Southern Illinois recovered. "We were screaming and hollering at our players to find the football," Claiborne said, "but the kick was so low and so short he didn't have time to get away from it."
Again, Kentucky held. Then the Salukis forced starting quarterback Glenn Fohr from the contest. End Ron Kirk sacked the Kentucky senior for a 13-yard loss, straining Fohr's left knee in the process. Afterward Kentucky trainer Al Green said the injury "did not look to be serious."
SIU, however, did make a serious mistake. Gutteridge's next punt was another shank. Only this time it could not find a Wildcat to strike, instead falling out of bounds at the SIU 36, making it a 12-yard effort.
Chuck Broughton, UK's relief specialist, replaced Fohr. Second play, Broughton hit Ray Gover for a 24-yard gain to the 12. Then Rawls raced 11 yards, all while losing his grip on the football, catching it behind his back and guiding it to the other side before being dragged down at the 1.
It took the Cats six plays to get the one yard. A delay-of-game infraction moved the ball back to the six. Rawls then lost two yards. Two plays later, an SIU pass-interference penalty in the end zone -- what goes around comes around -- gave the Cats a first-and-goal at the 2. It took Rawls two runs to cover that. Willis' extra point made it 14-7.
Next possession, Broughton hit Phil Logan for a 27-yard gain to the SIU 36, then Gover with a 17-yard pass to the 14. The drive stalled, forcing Willis to nail a 32-yarder -- his eighth successful field goal in his last nine attempts -- making it 17-7.
Chris Tolbert's 24-yard punt return set up Hunter's touchdown. A Kirk interception of Broughton set up the Salukis' final score, a 26-yard Bookout field goal.
"We played very hard," said Rhoades, who won the Division II national title last year at Troy State. "I think they wore us down a little. We couldn't move the ball with any consistency in the second half."
"I thought their kicking game really hurt them," said Claiborne of the losers, who averaged just 29.1 yards on seven punts. "If it wasn't for that, we might not have won the ball game."
But the Cats did win. "We had a letdown; we didn't take the game as seriously as we should have," said UK defensive tackle Oliver Barnett, who recorded his eighth sack of the season. "But we came back and shut them down in the second half. We've just got to keep our heads on straight."
"They were a good team," Murray said. "But we're anxious to get back to the SEC."