Monday, July 28, 2008

Kentucky: If we would have only...

2007 vs. Tennessee

Kentucky has had its moments over the past 10 years. They made a New Year's Day bowl in the 1998 season, had the #1 draft pick four months later, and beat #1 LSU last year. Their forgettable years must have seemed to carry on forever, because they were home for Christmas from 1999 through 2005. Unfortunately for them, their good years haven't been good by the standards of the big three in the Eastern Division, and the Wildcats haven't sniffed the SEC Championship game. Their best SEC record has been 4-4. Its hard to look back with so much regret on games if the only thing lost was the game itself, and no SEC CG or bowl game plans were affected. Partly because of default and partly because Andre Woodson just should have figured a way to pull it out, the game the Wildcats need back more than any other was the last regular season game of 2007. The Cats let Tennessee escape Lexington after 4 OT with their 23rd consecutive win in the series.

It doesn't seem right to say the Cats blew multiple chances to put the game away when they trailed by 17 twice, but its true. They started slowly to say the least, and trailed 24-7 at halftime. In the 3rd, they realized they had Andre Woodson on their team. Woodson had 3 TD passes in the second half and the Cats looked like the much better team. Their first chance to win the game game at the end of regulation, when they drove to the Vols 1-yard line with 30 seconds to go. A TD would have won it, but they had to settle for a FG a few plays later to send it to OT.

The first OT was uneventful, as both teams scored a TD with few problems. To start the second OT, Sam Maxwell intercepted and Eric Ainge pass intended for the end zone. This gave the Cats their second chance to put the game away. They moved the ball well the whole second half and the first OT, and just needed to keep it going to end 23 years of futility. Instead, Rich Brooks took three plays from Mike Shula's “How to lose a game in OT Playbook” and missed a field goal. Actually, it was blocked, but it never should have come to that. Shula's three plays were all runs.

The third OT resulted in touchdowns for both sides. By this point in every overtime game, the game is going to be decided by the two-point conversions or the occasional turnover. Defenses are inevitably too tired to muster any sort of stand. That was the case in the fourth OT as well, as the Cats couldn't take advantage of a 15-yard penalty called on the Vols' Arian Foster to end the third OT. Foster threw the ball in the air in frustration when he was stopped short on the two-point try at the end of the third OT. The call was pretty weak, but typical for SEC crews. Either way, Ainge threw a 40-yard TD on the first play of the fourth OT and the Vols converted the two-point try. Woodson and crew answered the TD, but were stopped in between running and throwing on the two-point attempt. The Vols went to Atlanta the next week, and the Cats went to the Music City Bowl a month later.

The game didn't affect postseason plans much, if at all. But there's no doubt Wildcat fans lost sleep over what should have been in a 4-OT game that was also the last regular season game for the best QB they'll have for years to come. Further, it would have been nice for the Cats to end the longest running losing streak in the nation.

A Kentucky win would have also wrecked the Vols postseason plans and set up the SEC Championship Game as a fight between the two best teams, LSU and Georgia. Hey, maybe this game should have gone under Georgia's article instead...