Date story was published: Sunday, September 20, 1987
It was supposed to be two teams of equal talent and similar ambitions meeting on level ground. It was supposed to be a Kentucky-Indiana border war that promised not so much national significance as just a darn good nail-biter of a football game.
Instead, yesterday was nothing of the kind as the ninth-largest crowd ever (57,924) at Commonwealth Stadium will surely attest. Instead, it was Kentucky and, for the second straight week, all Kentucky as the Wildcats put the hurt on the visiting Hoosiers by the shocking count of 34-15.
Well, not really shocking. That implies one giant volt of electricity. This was more like a series of separate but equally dominating charges from the opening snap until the final gun. "After the first series," said UK linebacker Jeff Kremer, "we had guys coming off the field saying, 'We got 'em.' We knew we'd beat 'em."
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And beat 'em they did. Kevin Dooley, the senior quarterback, hit 13 of 15 passes, the second-best passing percentage in UK history. Wide receiver Dee Smith ran for two touchdowns. Tailback Ivy Joe Hunter gained 100 yards on 16 carries, and Mark Higgs had 86 yards on 18 as the Wildcat front five of Dermontti Dawson, Greg Kunkel, Brad Myers, Butch Wilburn and Mike Pfeifer handled the Hoosiers all afternoon. "Our offensive line just dictated the game," said Dooley.
The UK defense was no less splendid. Throw out Indiana's 66-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dave Schnell to receiver Ernie Jones -- "a fluke," the Cats called it -- plus a second Hoosier touchdown recorded against second-teamers and the Cats' first line of defense slammed the door on the nation's No. 1-ranked offense.
"You all saw it," said Indiana coach Bill Mallory. "There's nothing I can say that's earth-shattering. We just got outplayed."
So much so it was practically outlandish. Kentucky did look terrific in its 41-0 opening win over Utah State last week, but Indiana appeared nearly as impressive in its 35-13 romp of Rice. And last year the Hoosiers were, for them, an upbeat 6-6, which brought Mallory's team a bowl invitation for the first time in seven years.
"I thought it would be like 24-21 or 14-12 or 14-13," said Brad Myers, Kentucky's center. "I didn't expect this. But we just went out and played well."
Much as Kentucky did last week in gunning to a 35-0 halftime lead over Utah State. "Again," said Cat coach Jerry Claiborne, "the first half I thought we played about as good as we could play."
Especially Dooley, whose performance paled only in comparison to Bill Ransdell's 20-of-23 passing against Florida last year. Yesterday, Dooley did nothing fancy, nothing showy, but was right on target with short passes before -- boom -- hitting a key play. "I thought Kevin got us out of a couple of holes," said Claiborne.
The first came with UK leading 3-0 but facing second-and-14 at the IU 24- yard line and Dooley scrambling for his life. But suddenly, out of nowhere, he found new life. Weaving right, he fired back to the center of the field, hitting Dee Smith at the Hoosier 2. Next play, Higgs used his 43- inch vertical leap to catapult up and in for a 10-0 Kentucky lead. "Dee made the big play," said Dooley, modestly. "He's the one who got open."
Indiana then made its one-and-only big play. Jones took a Schnell pass at midfield, slipped two tackles, cut to the center of the field, avoided another defender near the 20 then streaked for the 66-yard score. "That," said Wildcat linebacker Chris Chenault, "just made us madder."
Apparently so. A couple of nifty moves by freshman John Bolden returned the ensuing kickoff to the 35, and one of four Indiana personal foul penalties -- when Mallory said his Hoosiers would hit you, he forgot to mention when -- moved it to midfield. So long Uncle Mo, as in momentum. "That was just sickening," Mallory said. "Plain sickening."
It got worse. Kentucky needed just five plays to score. Higgs had a 16-yard run to the IU 24. Then the Kentucky coaches caught Indiana napping with a reverse to Smith, who caught a wipeout block from Myers. "I really wasn't doing what I was supposed to do," said the center. "I was supposed to roll up and pick up trash inside. But I saw a guy flash in front of me and I thought he could make the play."
So Myers nailed him and Smith turned the corner, zipping down the right sideline for the score. "The reverse," said Dooley, "was a heck of a call."
"Our coaches in the press box did a great job," said Claiborne. "I thought we kind of stayed a step ahead of them most of the day."
Meanwhile, the IU offense lagged a foot or so behind. Next Kentucky series, Hoosier defensive end Van Waiters swipes the football from Higgs at the Wildcat 8. Indiana ball, first and goal. Three plays later, the Hoosiers are at the UK 1-yard line, fourth-and-goal, quarterback Schnell turns to the referee as if there's too much noise, then settles under center and promptly drops the snap. Instead of 17-14 it's still 17-7 and Wildcat ball. "That," said Claiborne, "is what you dream about."
The rest wasn't bad either. Split end Tim Jones slipped behind a Hoosier defender and Dooley was on the money for a 23-yard score and a 24-7 UK lead. Joe Worley booted a 22-yard field goal to make it 27-7. Then in the fourth quarter, the Cats marched through the ruins, driving 82 yards in 11 plays with Smith scoring from 8 yards out to make it 34-7.
"The nice thing about it," said Myers, "is that we didn't do a lot of complicated things. We just ran our basic running plays. We just did the things that worked for us."
While the defense made sure nothing worked. Schnell, 12 of 16 last week, hit on only 6 of 14 yesterday and was picked off by both Ron Mack and Tony Massey. The Cats also held the IU running game to 35 net yards and halted sophomore tailback Anthony Thompson's string of 100-yard performances at six. Despite claiming the UK defenders were "not that good," Thompson picked up just 44 yards on 13 tries.
All on a day most figured would be decided by somebody's field goal in the waning seconds.
"This time I thought we were evenly matched," said IU's Mallory, whose team lost to Kentucky 48-14 back in '84. "There's nothing much to say, but we stunk."
And Kentucky sparkled. For the second straight week. True, Utah State was no great test, but Indiana was supposed to be a different story. Then the Cats win 34-15 over a team that may be surprising everyone but its coach.
"Not yet," said Jerry Claiborne. "I just hope we keep on doing like we planned it."