John Clay

Who needs Spurrier? Cats beat themselves

When you're 0-for-15 against the Ol' Ball Coach, you can't go 1-for-16 on third downs.

When you don't have much of an offense, you can't give up an 81-yard touchdown off a blocked field goal.

When you can't convert a chip-shot field goal, you can't give up an 84-yard kickoff return.

When you're in a nip-and-tuck affair, you can't squander time-outs because of personnel issues.

When you are as punchless as Kentucky is on offense, as disorganized as it was at times on defense, as lacking as it was in special teams play, then even when South Carolina tries to give you the victory, as the Gamecocks did Saturday, you're in no position to capitalize.

Make no mistake, Steve Spurrier's club did all it could to keep from winning 24-17 at Commonwealth Stadium. The visitors turned the football over four times in the game's first 18 minutes. Their usually sure-footed kicker Ryan Succop missed four of five field goals.

"To have four turnovers in the first half and miss four field goals and win the ball game," said Spurrier, "maybe that's a first in South Carolina history."

And midway through the third quarter, when Stephen Garcia replaced Chris Smelley, it became obvious Spurrier had been playing the wrong quarterback.

Given the disappointing outcome, more Big Blue backers will be convinced Rich Brooks is also playing the wrong QB. But no matter what Mike Hartline did (24-for-43 for just 152 yards) or what true freshman Randall Cobb might do with more snaps behind center, other breakdowns broke UK's back.

If you're Kentucky, especially this Kentucky team, you cannot beat yourself.

"In this league, if you're a decent team, you're going to be in a lot of close games," said Brooks afterward. "The game is going to come down to three or four plays, sometimes five, sometimes one or two. South Carolina made those plays, and we didn't."

Here's one: Instead of booming a kickoff through the back of the end zone as he normally does, Tim Masthay sent a line drive right to Captain Munnerlyn at the goal line. Eighty-four yards later, Masthay was making a saving tackle of Munnerlyn at the UK 16. One snap later, Carolina was scoring.

Here's another: Twice now the Cats have had field goals blocked. It nearly cost UK a win at the end of the Middle Tennessee game. This time, South Carolina's Jordin Lindsey broke up the middle to block Ryan Tydlacka's chip-shot 21-yard field goal. Munnerlyn snatched the bounce and 81 yards later USC led 14-7.

"That was a big 10-point swing there," said Brooks.

The coach started the second half with an onside kick only to have a Cat touch the ball before it had traveled the required 10 yards. Then twice in the fourth quarter, he was forced to burn time-outs when UK couldn't get the right defensive personnel on and off the field.

Finally, when Carolina earned a first-and-goal at the UK 7-yard line with just over seven minutes to play, the Ol' Ball Coach unpacked an odd formation with an offensive lineman split outside with three receivers. That left tight end Weslye Saunders as both the tackle on the right side and an eligible receiver.

UK had no idea what was going on. After a quick snap, Garcia hit the wide-open Saunders for the 7-yard winning score.

"Needless to say, we should have had somebody covering that guy, because it should never be that kind of deal," said defensive coordinator Steve Brown.

There were a lot of should'ves. And while Brooks and his staff have done a masterful job in turning the program around, this ninth straight loss to South Carolina, and 16th straight loss to Spurrier, won't go down as one of their better Saturdays.

"We didn't win," said the head coach. "So I'd say we didn't coach well enough and we didn't play well enough."

When you're UK playing the Ol' Ball Coach, you have to do both.