UK Football

It's a Big Blue breakthrough

In the blink of an eye, the season changed.

Make it two blinks.

First blink: Mike Hartline's 32-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 4:15 remaining Saturday night that creeped Kentucky to within six points of front-running Arkansas.

Second blink: Hartline's 21-yard pass to Randall Cobb all of 114 seconds later that ultimately rewarded the Cats an amazing and all-important 21-20 victory over the Razorbacks.

I know, during the week, Rich Brooks called such end-of-days hype "crap," and mockingly described the encounter as a "really, really, really big game." (There may have been a few more reallys, I stopped counting.)

But really, Saturday night was important, especially had the Cats landed on the crying side, which for nearly 55 minutes appeared probable.

A loss, and Kentucky would have dipped to 4-3 overall and 0-3 in the conference with scary days ahead. Remaining on the UK calendar are sojourns to The Swamp (Florida) and Starkville (Mississippi State), home games with ranked entities Georgia and Vanderbilt, and the finale at Tennessee.

Yes, as Brooks said, the Cats want to win every game. But they haven't mastered Florida since 1986. They haven't taken the measure of Tennessee since 1984. Even UK's Music City Bowl titlists lost to Mississippi State last November. Georgia sits among the nation's top 10 clubs. Vandy is 3-2 in the SEC. Let's be realistic.

Then again, well-worn realism might have told you UK had no serious shot at a Saturday comeback, given Bobby Petrino's hoggish ways with the football, given the way Kentucky's anemic offense was performing the few times it assumed possession.

Yet, somehow Kentucky found a way to pick the victory lock. Now the Cats are 5-2 overall, 1-2 in the league. They need one win in the final five games to become eligible for a third consecutive bowl trip.

But Arkansas was a "really, really, really important game" for another "really, really, really important" reason. The hope is those fabulous final five minutes provided a breakthrough for coordinator Joker Phillips' young pupils.

After all, with the game on the line, Hartline's two touchdown passes were easily the best balls the sophomore threw all night. Both were on-the-mark, high-velocity throws. And by running great routes and making both catches, Cobb easily established himself as UK's go-to and best receiver.

Never underestimate the importance of confidence. For a struggling offense, surely those back-to-back accomplishments provide a bit of confidence restoration.

"Mike is a very confident guy, and his confidence has been shaken recently," Brooks said after the win. "I hope this does a lot for his confidence and others' confidence in him."

Andre Woodson enjoyed a terrific career, but as a sophomore the UK quarterback never led a comeback like the one Hartline directed Saturday. Keenan Burton was a dynamite receiver, but as a true freshman he never executed the back-to-back catches Cobb did Saturday.

It's all part of development, all part of the progression. One minute you're up, the next you're down. But you get back up. No time for hangdogs. Arkansas provided the opportunity, carelessly fumbling the ball away in the final five minutes. But Kentucky took advantage, and in two blinks of an eye the outcome changed.

And maybe the season.