Date story was published: Sunday, October 4, 1987
There had been botched passes and numerous penalties and the starting quarterback had been taken to the hospital. Early on anyway, yesterday had the look of one of those long, frustrating autumn afternoons at Commonwealth Stadium, when the home team is struggling and the air starts feeling much colder than it actually is.
That was until the Kentucky ground game finally fired things up, brought some warmth to the homecoming proceedings and sparked the Wildcats to a 28-0 victory over Ohio University.
Mark Higgs, the senior speedster, blazed for 169 yards and three touchdowns, including one dazzling 45-yard scoring run. Andy Murray, the sophomore blocking back, broke loose for an unlikely 96 yards on just six carries, including a 51-yard shocker. And Ivy Joe Hunter, the junior workhorse, churned out 85 as UK totaled 400 yards net rushing and moved to 3-1 on the season.
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"You can only say this: Kentucky has a good football team," said Ohio coach Cleve Bryant, his team now 1-3. "It is the best offensive team we've met to date."
The defense wasn't bad, either. Once again, UK's defenders were absolute misers against the run, holding the Bobcats to just 36 net yards. That's the third time in four games the Cats have held their opponents under 50 yards on the ground. Bobcat tailback John Caldwell managed just eight yards on 12 carries.
Yesterday was also the first time since 1977 -- the 10-1 year of 1977 -- that the Kentucky defense has blanked two opponents in the same season. (UK beat Utah State 41-0 in the season opener.)
"I was kind of surprised," said senior linebacker Jeff Kremer. "We watched (Ohio U.) on film, and on film they looked dynamite."
Still, said Kentucky coach Jerry Claiborne, "We were happy to get out with the victory."
The reasons included: (a) a first-quarter funk that was possibly a carryover from last week's 19-18 loss to Rutgers; (b) an Ohio U. defense that at times rushed everyone but the head coach and, worst of all, (c) the loss of starting quarterback Kevin Dooley.
Dooley, a fifth-year senior, suffered a severely bruised kidney during a first-quarter sack and was gone for the rest of the day. In fact, there are fears Dooley might be missing much longer. He spent last night at Central Baptist Hospital for tests and observation. Trainer Al Green said last night Dooley might will be released from the hospital today and will be sidelined indefinitely.
"We hope it's nothing too serious," said Claiborne yesterday. "We just don't know right now."
At the time, however, matters were looking a bit more serious than first expected. Here was Ohio University, a winner in just four of its last 25 games. And here was Kentucky, home for homecoming, a prohibitive favorite, and having trouble getting its engines started.
First possession: a couple of bad throws and punt. Second possession: three plays and punt. Third possession: Dooley's injury, Glenn Fohr's entrance (the second of four UK quarterbacks to see action), a costly clipping penalty, then a punt.
"The team didn't seem like they were excited like they were the first two games," said defensive back David Johnson.
"I don't think it was a carryover from Rutgers," said senior center Brad Myers. "I know for the offense it was definitely the stunts they were running. They were using stunts I never in my wildest imagination dreamed they'd use. We had only seen them bring a couple of linebackers maybe once or twice. They brought linebackers every play in the first quarter."
"It seemed like they were bringing people on the sidelines," said Higgs, laughing. "We couldn't pick up all those people."
So the Cats couldn't pass -- neither Dooley, nor Fohr. Not effectively anyway.
"We came off after the first couple of series," Myers said, "and told the coaches, 'Let's keep it on the ground and go after them.' "
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"We run the ball a lot better than we pass the ball," said Higgs, grinning. "The linemen like running the ball a lot better than pass protection."
"That's not faulting our quarterbacks, at all," Myers said. "That's just the way we feel about it."
So first the Cats marched 77 yards in nine plays, mixing short passes with the run. Murray took a Fohr screen pass 24 yards to the 10. Higgs then squirted up the middle for the touchdown and Joe Worley's extra point made it 7-0.
From there the Cats ground it out. "I didn't feel like we threw the ball as sharp today as we'd been throwing it," Claiborne said. "Actually, we almost quit throwing it."
Because they didn't have to. Murray sparkled first. On a first down from the Ohio 47, the 6-foot-1, 236-pound bruiser slipped through the middle and motored all the way to the Bobcat 2-yard line before being collared by OU's Larry Hargrove. Hunter scored on the next play. UK led 14-0.
A second Higgs touchdown, two seconds into the final quarter made it 21-0. The 3-yard score capped a 73-yard march in 10 plays, all of them running plays.
But the 5-7 Owensboro native saved his best score for last. Murray set the table again, turning a Bill Allen screen pass into a 30-yard gain to the Ohio 45. Then Higgs took off, breaking to the right then . . . well, let the creator describe it.
"I bounced it outside," he said. "Then I got some good downfield blocking, so I cut all the way back. I saw one dude down there at about the 10-yard line and he was gonna try and get me and I was so determined to get in, I said, 'I've run this far now, I want to take it in,' so I cut back again. That's the most cuts I've made on one run since I've been here."
It was the grand finale on a great day. His 169 yards was a career-high, topping by 11 his total in the season opener. Plus, the senior became only the third back in Kentucky history to top 2,000 yards. Higgs has 2,104 and trails only George Adams (2,648) and all-time leader Sonny Collins (3,835).
"It feels real good now," Higgs said afterward. "It'll feel even better if I can catch up with George."
Just as the Cats have to feel a great deal better than last week, when they stumbled against Rutgers. "I think we had a pretty good day today," Myers said.
But not so good there isn't a lot to be done before Saturday's Southeastern Conference opener against Ole Miss.
"The worst thing I thought we did today was get penalties," said Claiborne, whose team was flagged 13 times for 105 yards. "We had way too many penalties."
"This game was far below perfect," said Johnson, "far below perfect."
Unless you were a Cat back.