Photo by the Associated Press.
It wasn't too long ago that a Gatorade bath at Kentucky was special. Today, Rich Brooks having his follicles drenched with electrolytes is not a special event. In fact, this will probably be the only blog post or column you'll read that references a Gatorade bath. Not necessarily because of the time that has passed since the event, but mainly because Kentucky is not the same middling low-end SEC team of the past.
We can, and have, win the games we need to win. That's what this season was all about; winning the games we had to win. The throttling of Louisville set us down the path. The shoestring save against Middle Tennessee didn't derail us. In this season filled with injuries and uneven play, there were disappointments against Vandy, South Carolina, and Tennessee, along with the inspiring but not-close-enough efforts against Alabama and Georgia. (Yeah, and that execution in Gainesville.) But it was the comebacks against Arkansas and Mississippi State wrote our third bowl ticket.
In some ways, the play of the Liberty Bowl matched the results of the season. The play was still uneven on all sides of the ball. Breakdowns in special teams (two blocked PATs, blocked field goal), penalties (yet another roughing the kicker call assessed to Matt Roark) and injuries (UK's All-SEC cornerback Trevard Lindley left the game in the first half and didn't return, plus others) crippled the UK gameplan.
But as they have done all season, the Wildcats kept battling. David Jones and the special teams added a touchdown at the beginning the second half. The 99-yard run is a Liberty Bowl record. The offense moved the ball and was able to add a touchdown to the comeback. After allowing 16 points in the first half, the defense stepped up and contained the Pirates. And at the end of the game, the defense came up with the big turnover for a touchdown to pull ahead.
And how accurately dramatic for Kentucky was the 4th quarter turnover? Earlier in the 4th, Sam Maxwell picks off ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney. But wait, UK defensive back Winston Guy was called for holding, and the interception was negated. Tied at 19 all and late in the 4th quarter, Jeremy Jarmon forces the fumble, which Myron Pryor runs back for a TD. What a fitting end, right?
Wait, the refs are reviewing the play, and have determined Pinkney was down with possession of the ball. Then Pinkey completes a twenty-something yard completion for a first down. Just when you thought Kentucky would get snakebit again, Pryor knocks the ball out from Pinkney's hands, and Ventrell Jenkins scoops up the ball and runs it back 56 yards for the score. Incredible!
This was a 4th quarter effort that was just as exciting as the 4th quarters and overtime of the LSU game and Louisville game of last year. My sincere thanks to Coach Brooks, his staff and his players for coming out and representing my university with a never-say-die effort. The kind of effort that wins 3 bowl games in a row; the first time that's happened in UK football history.
How about a few short-form notes to wrap up the ringing that Liberty Bell for victory:
* I want a recording of what Coach Brooks told the team at halftime. I want to pump the audio into a complex machine, and extract the liquid essence of pure motivating speech. I'm sure the expletives provide the raw punch, but there has to be something else that flipped the switch for the Wildcats.
* Winston Guy is the pure antithesis of Winston Wolf. Next year, let's hope Winston will be more like Winston.
* Would the referee crew have reviewed the kneed ECU kickoff return in the fourth quarter if there wasn't an UK injury on the field? What would have happened if the kickoff return wasn't brought back, and ECU went on to score and win? Would there be a lawsuit against the refs fronted by the Heavy Hitter?
* I have made it my new life mission to force Matt Jones to play videogames with me for over an hour. His reaction in the live blog to my videogames question was precious.
* Mike Hartline's stats: 19/31 for 204 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. He did what he needed to do, and that's all we could ask of him.
* There were several stories about how the wide receivers wanted to be much improved for the bowl game. And they were. Gene McCaskill and Kyrus Lanxter showed up in a big way with 5 and 3 receptions respectively.
* Freshman defensive back Randall Burden had two great pass deflections during ECU's last drive. I expect great things from this young man. Furthermore, its finally nice to have talented young subs coming off the bench to contribute in big ways. It feels so major football program like!
* Anybody wonder why people in Oregon cherished the ground Rich Brooks walked on?
This year, given the loss of experienced talent on offense -- an extra special thanks to Curtis! -- Kentucky with a winning record is a rewarding outcome. However, next year, more should be expected. We shouldn't lose *every* eligible junior to the NFL. The offense should be more experienced with the offense and Kayne West lyrics. Maybe we'll have special teams fixed? I think 7 or 8 wins before the bowl should be reasonable. What do you think?