Date story was published: Sunday, September 25, 1983
Aloft, Paul Calhoun's kick had no distinguishing characteristics.
When it touched ground, however, it became the punt of no return, a clear demarcation beyond which Kentucky -- make that "undefeated" Kentucky -- rolled past Tulane 26-14 yesterday at Commonwealth Stadium.
Until Tulane played giveaway in the fourth quarter, the Green Wave had Kentucky within its sights. Trailing 17-14 and fresh from a scoring drive on its last possession, the visitors stopped UK's sputtering offense and expected to have the ball and time (more than nine minutes) to win the game.
Instead, the two returners inadvertently attempted a four-handed catch and had to watch helplessly as UK's Don Yarano fell on the loose ball at the Tulane 15-yard line.
While the Wildcats got only a field goal -- Chris Caudell's second of the game -- Kentucky's fourth victory was all but in the books.
"That really let a lot of steam out of them," Yarano said.
Another fumble with five minutes remaining set up UK at the Tulane 43. Nine running plays, consuming all but the final 1:22, were capped by a George Adams touchdown from 3 yards out.
Game, set and -- bowl bid?
"It's going to be hard for us not to go to a bowl game," defensive back Kerry Baird said. "This game took a lot of pressure off us. Now, the bowl scouts are going to have to look a lot closer at us."
Conventional wisdom (and the promise of a stadium full of Big Blue fans) has UK needing only a winning season to go bowling. While such September speculation may be premature, it became more realistic once Calhoun's punt hit home.
Tulane's Gene Harris, a freshman defensive back, signaled a fair catch on the punt. But just as the ball hit his outstretched arms, teammate Curt Baham strayed into Harris' right shoulder. Both were watching the ball. Both claimed to have called for the ball.
In the confusion, which would continue into the locker room afterward, Yarano had a recovery.
"I saw them both coming together and I started laughing," Yarano said. "I thought, 'It'll be kind of funny if they run into each other and fumble it away.' "
Which was exactly what happened, even if neither Harris or Baham detected anything humorous.
"I felt that was it," Harris said. "If the ball is to the right or to the middle, he (Baham) takes it. The ball was right to me. I'm supposed to take those."
Baham, a junior safety, saw it differently.
"He obviously didn't hear me, but I was hollering 'Me, me, me,' " Baham said. "If he's going to take it, I call 'You, you, you.' I make the call. The wind was blowing kind of across the field. It started off coming to me. That's when I made the decision."
Either way, Tulane's chance for victory, sparked by substitute quarterback Wade Elmore, also slipped away.
"We pride ourselves on being organized," Green Wave Coach Wally English said. "Today, we weren't very organized."
English cited another example on a Calhoun punt, a short, line drive in the first quarter that Tulane's returners let roll more than 20 yards to the Green Wave 4-yard line.
And, neither was Tulane emotionally ready to play, English added.
When asked if the on-going court battle his quarterback-son Jon English is involved in was the reason, the elder English refused to be pinned down.
"Maybe the media swirl around the eligibility thing had an effect," the Tulane coach said. "All I know is we're a better football team than we played today."
English, the quarterback, was harassed by Kentucky's defense into a miserable afternoon. He completed just nine of 24 passes, lost two on interceptions and accounted for just 52 yards of offense before giving way to Elmore late in the final minute of the third quarter. The two quarterbacks hit just 16 of 41 passes, frequently overthrowing intended receivers.
"I embarrassed my team," Jon English said. "I can't remember ever playing that bad. The lack of offense was my fault.
"The team may have been more affected by the (court) proceedings than I thought," he added. "I hope not. I'll admit my mind was split, but that's no excuse."
Jon English also refused an injury alibi. He suffered a sprained wrist early in the first quarter.
As in last week's victory over Indiana, UK wiggled free from a slow start. Fullback Curt Cochran fumbled the ball away on the game's second play from scrimmage, but no damage was done when Baird blocked a 51-yard field-goal attempt.
Tulane, now 2-2, took a 7-0 lead on its next possession, driving 57 yards in 12 plays. A fourth-and-3 gamble at the UK 39 paid off when English hit tight end Mark Savini on a 12-yard pass. Then a pass-interference call against Gordon Jackson set up the Green Wave at the UK two. Kelvin Robinson took it over from there.
Thereafter, Tulane did little until Elmore, a senior who had thrown one pass this season, took over. After Robinson's TD, the visitors had only three first downs in the next 27 minutes, five in the next 38 minutes.
The Cats pulled even, then took a 10-7 halftime lead in the final eight minutes of the second quarter.
Quarterback Randy Jenkins, who was sacked six times, caught Tulane blitzing on a second straight play and hit Rick Massie on a 25-yard scoring pass to tie it with 7:28 remaining. On the first blitz, Jenkins had to throw the ball out of bounds, just before being leveled.
On the second, he hit Massie, and the senior from Paris did the rest by shaking the one defender between himself and the end zone.
"On the films, we'd noticed the secondary gave you a lot of cushion on the blitz," Massie said. "I had a feeling Randy was coming to me because I was on the short side (of the field). I didn't even feel him (the defender). I knew since they were blitzing, they had man-to-man coverage. All I needed was to get past the first guy and I was home free."
Another delicate Jenkins pass, launched like a set shot in basketball, found Adams free 21 yards down field at the Tulane 21 moments later. The play set up the Cats' go-ahead score.
Chris Caudell, who missed a 45yard attempt in the first quarter, hit from 47 yards out with 10 seconds left in the half to give UK its first lead.
The margin grew to 17-7 early on UK's first possession of the third quarter. The Cats needed to cover just 39 yards and used three plays to do so. Cochran burst 15 yards off right guard for the score, the sophomore's first collegiate touchdown.
Elmore got Tulane close, directing the Wave 75 yards in nine plays. He hit three of five passes on the drive, finding backup halfback Toddy Francis for a 3-yard touchdown with 12:13 left.
When Calhoun dropped back to punt moments later, Tulane appeared to be back in business.
Appearances were deceiving.
"Last week against Florida State, we were real high," Baham said. "A team like Kentucky is riding a crest. We should have been high. Obviously, we weren't. We paid the price."