UK Football

Kentucky going bowling for 16th time; here’s a look at the previous 15

Joker Phillips led the Wildcats onto the field for the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 8, 2011. UK has not played in a bowl game since then.
Joker Phillips led the Wildcats onto the field for the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 8, 2011. UK has not played in a bowl game since then. Herald-Leader

When Kentucky plays Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl on New Year’s Eve in Jacksonville, Fla., the Wildcats will be making their 16th all-time appearance in a postseason bowl game. UK’s record in bowl games is 8-7. Here’s a look at their previous 15 trips:

1947 Great Lakes Bowl


Dec. 6 at Cleveland: The Rose Bowl began its trek to being the “granddaddy” of them all in 1902. The Sugar and Orange bowls kicked off in 1935. But it was 1947 before the Cats made their bowl debut, playing in, of all places, Cleveland. Paul “Bear” Bryant’s second Big Blue edition beat Villanova 24-14 in the Great Lakes Bowl before a crowd of 14,908 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Quarterback George Blanda, who would go on to bigger and better things, kicked a 27-yard field goal for the only score of the first half. Bill Boller scored two of UK’s touchdowns — one on offense, one on defense. He scored on a 15-yard run, then later on a 49-yard interception return. The win finished UK’s year at 8-3.

1950 Orange Bowl


Jan. 2 at Miami, Fla.: Bryant later called this game one of his biggest coaching errors. In the first of what would be many major bowl appearances for the legendary coach, Bryant, then a young man, took his team to Florida to prepare and prepare and prepare. By game time, his Cats had left their claws on the practice field. A key series came near the end of the first half. With UK leading 7-0, All-America quarterback Babe Parilli hit Bill Leskovar for a 45-yard completion to the Santa Clara 3-yard line. But two running plays failed to reach the end zone as time ran out. Buoyed by the goal-line stand, Santa Clara scored two third-quarter touchdowns and continued on to the victory. Kentucky finished 9-3.

1951 Sugar Bowl


Jan. 1 at New Orleans: Arguably the finest moment in Kentucky football history. Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners brought a historic 31-game winning streak into the French Quarter for the New Year’s Day matchup with a 10-1 Bryant team. But the UK defense, ranked No. 2 in the nation, was too tough, repeatedly stopping the Sooners. Walt Yowarsky and Bob Gain starred on defense, with Yowarsky being named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Wilbur Jamerson scored both touchdowns for the Cats. He caught a 14-yard scoring pass from Parilli, then scored on a 1-yard run. The Cats have not been to the Sugar Bowl since. Kentucky finished 11-1.

1952 Cotton Bowl


Jan. 1 at Dallas: Parilli capped his great career by sparking UK to its second straight New Year’s Day bowl win. The quarterback from Pennsylvania threw two touchdown passes to Emery Clark as Bryant’s team finished 8-4. UK led the Horned Frogs 13-0 at the half, thanks to Parilli’s 5-yard pass to Clark in the first quarter and a 13-yard strike to Clark in the second period. Four times Texas Christian drove deep into UK territory only to come up empty. All-American Ray Correll led the Cats’ defense. When TCU did trim the lead to 13-7 in the third quarter, UK’s Ed Hamilton scored on a 3-yard run with 3:33 left to seal the win.

1976 Peach Bowl


Dec. 31 at Atlanta: A 24-year bowl drought ended with Kentucky’s march on Atlanta. Fran Curci’s club secured the Cats’ first bowl bid since 1952 and, as if visiting an oasis after a long trip in the desert, Cat fans swarmed Atlanta in numbers approaching 40,000. The show on the field wasn’t bad, either. Kentucky’s defense dominated the poor Heels, holding Carolina to 108 yards in total offense. After a scoreless first half, UK running back Rod Stewart scored three second-half touchdowns. The Cats had been placed on NCAA probation and were given a choice of sitting out the postseason in 1976 or 1977. With an 8-3 team in 1976, Kentucky decided there was no time like the present and took the Peach Bowl bid. Alas, the 1977 team finished 10-1 and easily could have played in a New Year’s Day bowl. Kentucky finished 9-3

1983 Hall of Fame Bowl


Dec. 22 at Birmingham: The story in 1983 was not so much the bowl itself but that the Cats earned a bid. After all, Jerry Claiborne’s 1982 debut as UK coach had produced an 0-10-1 season. But in 1983, the Cats rebounded, garnering an invitation to face West Virginia in Birmingham. Led by quarterback Jeff Hostetler, the Mountaineers lost the statistical battle — Kentucky outgained WVU 306-288 — but won the war. Down 10-3 at the half, Don Nehlen called a surprise onside kick to start the second half. Paul Woodside recovered his own kick, and the Mountaineers were off and running to 17 second-half points. UK finished 6-5-1.

1984 Hall of Fame Bowl


Dec. 29 at Birmingham: Jerry Claiborne had a rule concerning true freshmen: redshirt them, don’t play them. Thankfully, the coach had his exceptions, and Joey Worley was one. The true-freshman kicker drilled a 52-yard field goal with 8:55 left to give Kentucky its first bowl victory since 1976. The Cats had fallen behind 19-10 with 9:04 left in the third quarter before staging their comeback. Quarterback Bill Ransdell hit Marc Logan for a 27-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 19-17. Then Worley came in and performed his heroics in the fourth. Led by wide receiver Al Toon, Wisconsin drove to the Kentucky 8-yard line with less than two minutes remaining. But a bad snap kept Todd Gregoire from attempting a 25-yard field goal. UK finished 9-3

1993 Peach Bowl


Dec. 31 at Atlanta: Undoubtedly one of the cruelest blows in UK football history. Emblematic of the Bill Curry era, even something good (the team’s first bowl bid in nearly a decade) ended up bad. The Cats hit Atlanta with a new spread-the-field offense and led 13-7 as Clemson drove in the final minutes. The Tigers moved inside the 30-yard line when quarterback Patrick Sapp’s pass was intercepted by UK linebacker Marty Moore near the goal line, apparently saving the UK win. Instead, Moore, the heart and soul of the Kentucky effort, saw daylight and took off, only to be stripped from behind. Clemson recovered the loose ball, and Sapp subsequently hit wide receiver Henry Smith for a 21-yard touchdown, bringing UK’s season to a heart-wrenching 6-6 end.

1999 Outback Bowl


Jan. 1 at Tampa, Fla.: It was all but one of those pinch-me dreams. Kentucky’s first New Year’s Day bowl game since 1952. A meeting with traditional power Penn State. The sun and fun of Florida. A national TV audience via ESPN. Nearly 40,000 of its fans packing Raymond James Stadium. A 14-3 lead at the end of one quarter. At halftime, however, the Cats were unceremoniously pinched. They awoke to find a dominating Penn State defense, led by Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington, that shut down Tim Couch and company the final three quarters. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions’ offense finally found its gear, rolling on to a 26-14 win. No matter. By all accounts, the trip was more than a success. The trip was a dream. Kentucky finished 7-5.

1999 Music City Bowl


Dec. 29 at Nashville: Playing before a hugely supportive crowd of 59,221 at Adelphia Coliseum as a three-point favorite, Kentucky first lost its All-America tight end, James Whalen, to a dislocated elbow midway through the first quarter. Then the Cats lost a 10-0 lead and, ultimately, the game. “Sometimes,” UK linebacker Jeff Snedegar said afterward, “it just seems like we’re not all that lucky.” Sophomore running back James Mungro rushed for 162 yards to lead Syracuse. After the first three minutes, the stout Syracuse defense kept a struggling UK offense out of the end zone. It was the first time in the Hal Mumme era that the Cats held an opponent to 20 or fewer points and lost. Kentucky’s normally high-powered offense gained 155 yards and scored three points in the second half. Syracuse took the lead 14-13 on a 32-yard Mungro run. Kentucky finished 6-6.

2006 Music City Bowl


Dec. 29 at Nashville: Kentucky practically relocated Commonwealth Stadium to Nashville, awarding the Music City Bowl its first sellout as an overwhelmingly blue-clad crowd of 68,024 packed LP Field. The Cats played as if they were the home team, as well, led by quarterback Andre Woodson, who completed 20 of 28 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns to earn the game’s MVP honors. But the game might have turned on a pass thrown by punter Tim Masthay, who turned a fake into a 10-yard completion to Marcus McClinton for a key first down. On the next play, Woodson hit DeMoreo Ford for a 70-yard touchdown that staked the Cats to a 14-6 lead. A 24-yard pass from Woodson to Dicky Lyons Jr. in the third quarter extended the lead to 21-6. Then another Woodson scoring toss, a 13-yarder to Jacob Tamme in the final frame, gave the Cats cushion enough to hold off a late Clemson charge, capping an 8-5 Kentucky season.

2007 Music City Bowl


Dec. 31 at Nashville: The biggest pregame news came from Tallahassee, where 36 Florida State players were suspended for the bowl game after taking part in an academic scandal. If nothing else, however, that just put the pressure on Kentucky, which entered its second straight Music City Bowl at 7-5 in a season that included a win over top-ranked (and eventual BCS champ) Louisiana State, and a brief stay inside the AP top 10. With the vast majority of the 68,661 packing LP Field wearing blue, the Cats fought to a 14-14 tie at the half, then gained some breathing room in the third quarter. Woodson’s 2-yard pass to Rafael Little made it 21-14 just past the midway point of the quarter. When Tony Dixon scored on a 4-yard run with four seconds left in the third, UK led 28-14. Rich Brooks’ team held a 35-21 lead before FSU tacked on a late touchdown. Little turned in a huge game, gaining 152 yards on the ground while catching eight passes for 50 yards. In his collegiate finale, Woodson completed 32 of 50 passes for 358 yards and four scores and earned the bowl’s MVP honor for the second straight year.

2009 Liberty Bowl


Jan. 2 at Memphis: In its first trip to the Liberty Bowl, Kentucky was without quarterback Randall Cobb, who injured his knee in the season finale. With sophomore Mike Hartline at the helm, Kentucky fell behind Conference USA champ East Carolina 16-3 at the half. But David Jones started the Kentucky comeback by returning the second-half kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, though the extra point was blocked. The Cats then tied the score at 16 on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Hartline to Kyrus Lanxter. East Carolina snuck back in front 19-16 on a field goal at the end of the third quarter. But the fourth quarter belonged to UK. A 36-yard run by Alfonso Smith set up Lones Seiber’s 34-yard field goal to tie it. Then Ventrell Jenkins picked up an ECU fumble and motored 57 yards for a touchdown with 3:02 left to ultimately give Rich Brooks’ Cats their third consecutive bowl victory. Jenkins was named the game’s overall MVP, and linebacker Braxton Kelley and Hartline were named defensive and offensive MVPs, respectively. Hartline completed 19 of 31 passes for 204 yards and a score as UK finished 7-6.

2009 Music City Bowl


Dec. 27 at Nashville: In what turned out to be Rich Brooks’ final game as Kentucky head coach, freshman Morgan Newton started at quarterback for the Cats and went the entire way. Newton and UK moved the ball up and down the field in front of an LP Field crowd of 57,280 mostly UK fans, driving into Clemson territory six times. However, the Wildcats found the end zone only once. Kentucky’s defense, which had allowed seven opposing rushers to gain more than 100 yards during the regular season, held Clemson All-American C.J. Spiller to 67 yards. The Tigers’ defense dug in as well, limiting Kentucky’s Randall Cobb to 36 yards on 10 rushes. Kentucky had one final chance for a score and potential game-tying two-point conversion and looked in good shape when Ryan Tydlacka picked up 9 yards on a fourth-and-3 fake punt from the Clemson 43. But UK would move the ball no further and Newton came up a yard short on a fourth-and-9 run from the Clemson 33. Kentucky finished 7-6 to close out the seven-year Brooks era with four winning seasons and a 3-1 record in bowl games.

2011 BBVA Compass Bowl


Jan. 8 at Birmingham, Ala.: A bowl game this strange should have signaled dark days ahead for Kentucky, but with all the momentum the program had gained under Rich Brooks, then handed off to Joker Phillips, few probably thought the Wildcats would not make another bowl appearance until 2016. Pittsburgh went into the game without a head coach. Dave Wannstedt resigned under pressure during the season. His replacement, Mike Haywood, was fired a week before the bowl game after being arrested on domestic assault charges. Kentucky played without starting quarterback Mike Hartline, who was suspended after a December arrest on disorderly conduct and alcohol charges. Kentucky went on to suffer its worst bowl loss in 15 postseason appearances and seal the Cats' first losing season (6-7) since 2005. Playing in front of 41,207 on a blustery, chilly day at cavernous Legion Field, Pittsburgh led 13-3 at halftime, opened it up to 20-3 in the third quarter and was never challenged by the Wildcats.

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