Date story was published: Sunday, October 16, 1983
BATON ROUGE, La. -- A week after shedding tears, Kentucky got rid of its losers' image in the Southeastern Conference.
As the rebounding Wildcats had done earlier this season, the team came back from adversity and beat Louisiana State 21-13.
Gone was the sour memory of last week's defeat against Auburn. In its place, an SEC victory at long last, the first since 1981 (a span of seven straight losses). How sweet it was.
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"This is by far the sweetest victory I've ever had," said linebacker Scott Schroeder, who tried unsuccessfully to hold back the tears seven days ago. Last night, in the happy, yet controlled UK locker room, the courageous senior accepted congratulations with no more outward emotion than a wink and a smile.
"Now, we know we can compete (in the SEC)," Schroeder said. "Now, we can go in without thinking 'Uh, oh,' Now, we can go in and try to win."
Last night's victory, the third in UK's last 15 SEC games, was the product of a second-half comeback. After being stifled by poor field position and the LSU defense, the Wildcats rode the suddenly potent passing combination of Randy Jenkins to Joe Phillips. The pair combined on second-half touchdowns of six and 12 yards to erase an LSU lead and give Kentucky its fifth victory in six games this season.
"When we were 4-0, everybody was saying, 'Well, they're not playing anybody,' " Jenkins said. "Then, we lose to Auburn and everybody says 'I told you so.'
"Now, to beat LSU in front of a big crowd, well, it's a big plus. I don't think people can feel like Kentucky's not in the league. At least now, the other teams have got to think 'We've got to give this team a look.' "
It didn't come easy, but it did come. The Wildcats were hampered by two interceptions, a lost fumble and several ill-timed penalties. Yet, in the second half, the game was there for the taking. UK took it.
Jenkins suffered through a miserable first half, throwing for 4 yards. In the third quarter, however, he found Phillips on a 6-yard touchdown pass, putting UK ahead for good at 14-10. In the fourth period, Jenkins again hit Phillips on a scoring pass, this time from 12 yards out, to push the Wildcats ahead 21-10 with 11:05 to play.
Thereafter, an already disgruntled Tiger Stadium crowd of 77,765 turned angry. At the game's conclusion, the LSU team, defeated for a third straight week to fall to 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the SEC, was booed off the field.
"I think the fans have a right to boo when we don't play well," LSU quarterback Jeff Wickersham said. "I thought we had momentum in the first half. But, they just played well in the second half."
Kentucky was held to two first downs and 41 yards of total offense in the first half. Both UK Coach Jerry Claiborne and Jenkins cited poor position. Of the Cats' seven first-half possessions, none began farther up field than UK's 28-yard line.
With its second possession of the third quarter, however, the Cats needed to drive 30 yards to hit the end zone. A short (34 yards) LSU punt and a 15-yard penalty against the Tigers for roughing UK returned Brian Williams set up Kentucky at the 39-yard line. Seven plays (and another roughing call) later, UK was ahead. Faced with a second-and-goal at the LSU 6-yard line, UK called time. Jenkins then faded back, looked over the field and found Phillips alone in the end zone. The TD put UK ahead 14-10 with 7:15 left in the third quarter. "I had to more or less read (the coverage)," Jenkins said of the play. "I finally saw Joker and threw it. I thought 'Hey, go get it. If you don't catch it, nobody else will.' "
UK widened its lead to 21-10 early in the final quarter, driving 69 yards on eight plays. George Adams, who finished with 100 yards rushing on 21 carries (UK's first 100-yard rusher this season), got the march going by sprinting 32 yards on a draw play to the LSU 46. Two plays later, Jenkins found tight end Mark Wheeler over the middle for another 32-yard gain, setting up the Cats at the LSU 12.
Two plays later, with UK still at the 12, the Cats called another timeout. As with the first one, Jenkins trotted back onto the field and hit Phillips with a scoring pass.
"Joker was the intended receiver all the way," Jenkins said. "They went with the tight end. Joker went underneath."
The score put UK up 21-10 with 11:05 remaining.
LSU had pushed the Wildcats up and down the field in the first half, amassing more than four times (178-41) the yardage and five times the first downs (10-2).
Yet, in the second half, the Tigers could only get a 28-yard field goal from Juan Betanzos with 7:55 to play. The crowd greeted the score with a chorus of boos.
"Their formations and their linemen tipped off many of their plays," UK defensive tackle Jeff Smith said. "Right before the first half ended, we felt we could tell what plays they were going to run."
As had been hoped for all week, the Cats got on the board early. Kerry Baird, playing with a bruised right shoulder, stepped in front of a Wickersham pass on the game's fourth play from scrimmage and went 35 yards for a touchdown. The interception, Baird's first of the season, gave UK a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
"I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe he threw it," Baird said of the pass, which came on a quick across-the-field out pattern to Junius Dural. "It wasn't as easy as it looked because I had nothing to do but catch it and run for the end zone."
Baird may have had a lot of time to think about the play. But, UK had been planning for such a pattern this week, having spotted an LSU tendency to throw the sideline pass when opponents played man-to-man coverages. According to Claiborne, the Cats disguised a zone on that play and Wickersham threw into it.
Fortune shone more than once on UK. The Cats turned the ball over at their own 40-yard-line on an interception and at their own 9-yard-line on an Adams fumble in the first half. Betanzos missed a 32-yard field goal to the left after the interception. UK's defense stiffened after the fumble, dropping LSU back 9 yards, and forcing the Tigers to settle for a 33-yard field goal.
LSU took its only lead with 58 seconds remaining in the half. The 58-yard, eight-play drive, salvaged by an offside penalty against UK when LSU was in punt formation, was concluded when Wickersham scored on a 5-yard run.
After its early domination, though, a 10-7 lead was of little comfort.
"We did not have the consistency which would allow us to win," LSU Coach Jerry Stovall said. "We had 42 plays at the half and only 10 points to show for it."
On the other sideline, UK had dodged a bullet and was loading its own revolver. After sidestepping several questions about the importance of finally wining a league game, Claiborne finally surrendered. "We needed it bad," he said. "These kids had been knocked around for who, three years. It's a big win."