Cobb's show a hit till the end

Randall Cobb's Starting Quarterback Show played Lexington on Saturday for the first time.

The reviews were boffo right up until the final act — the hero crumpled on the ground in despair. Then it fell flat.

On a sunny but blustery Saturday afternoon, Cobb pumped kinetic energy into every chilled corner of Commonwealth Stadium.

Kentucky's true freshman quarterback used his electric feet to weave in, out and around Georgia defenders. When he needed it, the Alcoa, Tenn., product showed a bull strength that belied his 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame.

By the time there were 51 seconds left in the game between Kentucky and the team that began the 2008 season picked to win the national championship, Cobb had run for three touchdowns.

He had brought an offense locked in a season-long slumber into a position to win a shootout with one of college football's most potent offenses.

Thanks largely to Cobb, the Cats found themselves only 13 yards from erasing a 42-38 deficit against Mark Richt's Bulldogs inside the game's final minute and earning a signature victory that could have propelled UK up the bowl food chain.

Then the ending went awry.

On first-and-10 from the Georgia 13, the Kentucky offensive brain trust called an outside screen pass to running back Tony Dixon.

As Cobb retreated deep into the pocket, it was apparent that Georgia defenders had the screen fully diagnosed.

"They had Tony covered like a blanket," UK Coach Rich Brooks said later.

In such a situation, a veteran quarterback throws the ball out of bounds. Or throws it at the feet of the well-covered receiver. Or pulls the ball down and runs.

What a veteran quarterback doesn't do on first down with ample time left in the game is try to force the ball onto a well-guarded receiver.

Unfortunately for The Long-Suffering UK Football Fan, Cobb picked this exact time to act his age.

His forced pass was batted into the air by Georgia's Demarcus Dobbs. Completing an athletic masterpiece, the backup defensive end caught the ball for a game-clinching interception.

Georgia 42, Kentucky 38. Final.

Cobb — the guy whose play lit up Commonwealth Stadium like the Las Vegas strip — wound up rocking in agony on the C.M. Newton Field.

"It was double coverage. The screen was covered up," Cobb said later, in a quiet voice, of the game's decisive play. "I tried to force the ball in there. I'm going to have to live with it the rest of my life."

What Cobb needs to remember is that he was the prime reason UK was in the game.

Kentucky's running attack had been as invisible as Casper The Friendly Ghost against good teams in 2008. For most of Saturday, Cobb's rushing befuddled a Georgia defense that came into Saturday as the Southeastern Conference's second best at stopping the run.

With Cobb operating from the shotgun, often with two tailbacks aligned on each side of him, UK did a pretty good imitation of the vintage West Virginia spread option.

Kentucky ran for 226 yards. Cobb accounted for 82 of those himself (it was 102 without the quarterback sacks subtracted).

The little lefty that UK lured right from under the nose of poor Phil Fulmer also threw for 105 yards.

On a day when both of Kentucky's celebrated high school quarterback recruits, Ryan Mossakowski of Texas and Morgan Newton of Indiana, were supposed to be in Commonwealth, it was easy to wonder — well, I wondered — if Cobb's play against Georgia was cementing him as UK's quarterback of the future.

"In the short term," Brooks said of Cobb being UK's main quarterback. "But I'd like to throw the ball better than we're throwing it. I'm not ready to make any projections for next year. I'm looking to next week right now."

Against Georgia, Cobb drove Kentucky from 14-0 behind into contention. Three different times in the second half, he rallied the Cats into the lead.

Cobb seemed destined for one more such rally when the true freshman threw his late pick.

Instead of celebrating an upset of the No. 14 team in the country, Cobb's ending was Brooks hugging his dejected freshman quarterback as he walked off the field.

"He just told me keep my head up," Cobb said, "that I played a heck of a game. Way to be a competitor and a fighter."

Randall Cobb's first home start as Kentucky's quarterback was quite the show.

If only the ending had been different.