Date story was published: Sunday, September 25, 1988
They climbed back on the victory beam, celebrated a happy homecoming, regained some personal pride. In doing so, the Kentucky Wildcats may have even mustered a morsel of momentum in surviving yesterday's rains, but there was no forgetting that next week comes the Tide.
"Maybe then," said UK quarterback Glenn Fohr, "we can do some bragging."
Yesterday, the Cats were merely content with winning. Taking advantage of some golden opportunities presented by Golden Flash mistakes, Kentucky rolled over visiting Kent State 38-14 on another wet Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
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Chris Tolbert set up one touchdown with a 49-yard punt return. The Kentucky defense recovered two Flash fumbles that led to two other scores. Ivy Joe Hunter rushed for two touchdowns. And head coach Jerry Claiborne used four quarterbacks as his Wildcats evened their slate at 2-2.
Yet UK's degree of domination did not match the winning margin. The Wildcats were actually outgained 329-277. Despite superior size, they rushed for a mere 119 yards. And after taking a 31-7 halftime lead, they managed only one second-half score.
And afterward, the Cats did not rejoice as much as look ahead to next week when the Alabama Crimson Tide comes to town. The Tide that is 2-0 after mashing Vanderbilt 44-10 yesterday. The Tide that has lost to UK but once in 30 tries.
"Next week," said safety Ron Robinson, "is going to be a good opportunity for us to knock off a good team."
Yesterday was an opportunity for the Cats to ease the sting of last week's embarrassing 36-15 loss at Indiana. "We were up for this game," said defensive tackle Oliver Barnett. "We knew we needed to win and we knew that Kent State had the ability to beat us."
Coach Dick Crum's club did enter Commonwealth with a 2-1 record, an exciting running quarterback in Patrick Young and last year's NCAA all-purpose yardage champ in Eric Wilkerson.
A senior, Wilkerson lived up to his billing, rumbling for 138 yards on 31 carries. But Young, a sophomore, was rarely a factor. On the visitors' second drive, the tiny, 5-foot-8 (on his tiptoes) quarterback tried to throw over the 6-foot-3 Barnett. No go. Barnett batted the ball down, forcing a Kent punt.
Which set up a Tolbert return. The sophomore sped 49 yards before failing to elude the visitors' lone remaining tackler at the Kent State 12-yard line. "If we could get just one more man," Tolbert lamented later, "I know we can go all the way on one."
Still, his teammates covered the rest of the way. On third-and-eight from the 10, Fohr found fullback Andy Murray on a sideline screen and the Louisville native rumbled in for the game's first score. Ken Willis' extra point made it 7-0.
Then Young started fumbling. His first came at his own 46. Tony Massey caused it. Donnie Gardner recovered. Ken Willis kicked a 42-yard field goal. The second fumble came at Young's own 10. Craig Benzinger caused it. Vic Adams recovered it. Two plays later, Alfred Rawls sliced into the end zone from 7 yards out. Willis' kick made it 17-0 with 1:09 left in the first quarter.
Young did make something of an atonement in the second quarter, marching the Flash 58 yards in five plays. But the key play was a personal foul penalty on Massey for a late hit. And even on the touchdown play, defensive guard Jerry Bell appeard to have Young wrapped up, only to let the Kent quarterback get away for a 15-yard score.
But UK bounced back. Hunter returned the kickoff 37 yards to midfield. Kent was hit with a key roughing the passer penalty, taking the ball to the Flash 35. Fohr hit tight end Charlie Darrington for 19 yards -- Darrington's first catch of the season after missing UK's first three games with a fractured foot. Hunter ran the final 19 yards for the score. UK led 24-7.
That was it for Fohr, who called it a day after hitting five of nine passes for 76 yards. In came backup Chuck Broughton, who merely drove the Cats 82 yards in 10 plays in a two-minute drill. Broughton completed four passes in the drive. Al Baker had a 16-yard run. Baker also scored the touchdown, from 2 yards out, making it 31-7, only 13 ticks from halftime.
"I thought we played a real good first half," said Claiborne. "I thought our defense played well. I thought we had good intensity."
To avoid a letdown, Claiborne lectured his troops at halftime. "He got on us and told us not to let up," said Hunter. "But we did."
Broughton tossed an interception. Next, the Cats failed to capitalize on Tolbert's 30-yard punt return; Broughton tossed three straight incompletions. So in came Bill Allen at quarterback.
On his second series, the senior drove UK 58 yards in 10 plays. He threw but once, hitting tight end Mike Meece for 12 yards on a key third-and-10. Baker had an 18-yard run. Hunter scored from 3 yards out and Kentucky was up 38-7.
Young finally squirted free for a 36-yard run, late in the fourth quarter. Greg Wagner scored on a 2-yard run with 2:40 left. By that time, the matter had been decided -- UK's Freddie Maggard quarterbacked the home team's final possession -- though Crum did not take the outcome in a completely friendly manner.
"Kentucky has a good defensive team, but there were a couple of things that really hurt us," complained the coach, meaning a roughing the passer penalty and an offensive holding call against his team. "Kentucky has the better team and I am not saying we could have beaten them. But without those calls the game could have been much closer. These were not blatant fouls and the officials could have let the kids play."
UK didn't escape Crum's questioning either. "I was surprised that Hunter was still in the game to score the last touchdown," he said. "He could have been injured."
Claiborne's post-game remarks, meanwhile, began with praise but ended with the UK coach finding his troops wanting.
"The first group played pretty good defense," Claiborne said. "But offensively, we just didn't move the ball at all the second half. You can't keep momentum going when you do things well and then all of a sudden you get a penalty. Penalties are killing us. We've got to overcome that."
Claiborne fought gamely to keep his voice as the game marked the third time in four games Claiborne has put his vocal cords and (wet and Wild?) Cats through rainy conditions. The one dry game, last week at Bloomington, was UK's worst game.
"In that case," rasped Claiborne, "I hope it rains next week."
Just not enough for a Crimson Tide.