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Sports Notes: Big time game atmosphere not matched by Wildcats’ performance on the field

By Glenn Osborne
KyForward sports editor

The stage was set for a spectacular end to an historic weekeend.

With the buzz about American Pharoah’s “grand slam” win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland still electric, attention shifted to the New Commonwealth Stadium. The crowd, while not a sell out, was large and enthusiastic, ready to witness something special.

Young (and old) trick-or-treaters were in attendance, both inside and outside the stadium. The pregame show was spectacular, highlighted by the UK Marching Band and a breath-taking National Anthem performance by UK Opera Director Everett McCorvey.

The rain even held off for the most part.

Then the game started. Talk about a buzz kill.

Running back Mikel Horton was a bright spot for the Wilddcats, rushing for a career-high 109 yards after replacing the injured Boom Williams (UK Athletics Photo)

Running back Mikel Horton was a bright spot for the Wilddcats, rushing for a career-high 109 yards after replacing the injured Boom Williams (UK Athletics Photo)

At some point, having a big-time atmosphere for a college football game is going to have to be accompanied by a big-time performance by the Kentucky football team. That’s still the missing component more than two-and-a-half years into the regime of head coach Mark Stoops.

There was a lot not to like about the Kentucky-Tennessee football game. How about two yards of total offense in the first quarter? How about Tennessee returning a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the second half, part of a 42-7 run that culminated in a 52-21 Wildcat defeat?

How about Tennessee scoring on a 75-yard pass play just 13 seconds after Patrick Towles had given the Wildcats a 14-10 advantage on a one-yard run, capping an impressive offensive series that included a 21-yard run by the quarterback on fourth down? Nearly 100 yards in penalties, many against an obviously over-matched offense line.

When the Volunteers tacked on another score before halftime to take a 24-14 edge into halftime, you could feel the stadium deflate. Unsurprisingly, a number of fans decided to call it an early night, including many in the student section surrounding the new recruiting room in the endzone.

After Tennessee scored two quick touchdowns to open the third quarter, the second set up by a terrible Towles’ interception, the mass exodus to the parking lots was on.

So where do we stand heading into the final month of the college football regular season?

The Cats have lost three straight and stand 4-4 overall, 2-4 in SEC play. No one’s talking about conference championships anymore and even a .500 mark in the league seems unlikely. Road games loom with Georgia and Vanderbilt and the matchup with the Commodores no longer seems like a sure thing.

Stoops and his troops could easily be looking at a five-game winless streak and a 4-6 record when they return to CWS to finish the season against Charlotte and Louisville. A season that began with a 4-1 record and a rare SEC road win, generating so much enthusiasm, could come down to not a seven- or eight-win year, but a must-win encounter with Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals with bowl eligibility on the line.

“We have got to face adversity better,” Stoops said. “We have got to be able to handle it and manage the game and not let it get out of hand. So, there are things we have got to do better. We have got to put them in a better position.”

Tennessee coach Butch Davis, like Stoops, is in his third season and he is 3-0 against the Cats. The combined margin of the last two meetings is 102-37. Tennessee has beaten UK 30 times in 31 tries. Plenty of Wildcat fans are wondering when the team will finally turn the corner and more than a few have turned their attention to basketball season.

Stoops’ Cats are desperately in need of a signature win that has been missing from the resume so far. Next week in Athens would be a good time to get it.

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Kentucky finally gets a day game when it takes on Georgia at noon Saturday. The Bulldogs are 5-3 coming off a lopsided 27-3 loss to Florida that left the Gators a win away from clinching the SEC East Division title. An upset of Georgia isn’t impossible, given the Bulldogs are missing their top running back in Nick Chubb and the fact that they have scored only 12 points in their last two games.

Still, Georgia came to Lexington and won by a margin of 63-31 last year.

Ole Miss topped Auburn Saturday and Texas A&M outlasted South Carolina by a touchdown in other SEC action. Arkansas bested Tennessee Martin in a non-conference matchup while No. 18 Houston was too much for Vandy, taking a 34-0 decision.

Top league matchups this weekend include Alabama hosting LSU in a key West Division matchup, Mississippi State at Missouri, Vandy at Florida, Arkansas at Ole Miss, South Carolina at Tennessee and Auburn traveling to Texas A&M.

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Kentucky scored its first defensive touchdown of the season when defensive lineman Cory Johnson rumbled 77 yards with a first-quarter fumber. The Cats’ last defensive touchdown came last year at Louisville. It was also UK’s longest defensive score in an SEC game since Jamal White had a TD return against Vanderbilt in 2001.

Kentucky surpassed the 16 million mark in fans at Commonwealth Stadium with a crowd of 60,886. Since the stadium opened in 1973, a total of 16,015,932 have attended a game in the facility.

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Kentucky senior punter Landon Foster is a candidate for the 2015 Ray Guy Award, given annually to the nation’s top collegiate punter, according to the Augusta Sports Council.

A native of Franklin, Tenn., Foster is also a member of the Danny Wuerffel Trophy Watch List, given to the nation’s top community servant, and the Campbell Trophy Semifinalist, given to the nation’s top scholar athlete. Foster is also a member of the American Football Coaches Association All-State Good Works Team.

Western Kentucky punter Jake Collins is also on the Ray Guy Award list, which will be narrowed to 10 semifinalists who will be announced on Nov. 13. The top three finalists to be identified on Nov. 23 and the presentation of the Ray Guy Award will be featured live on ESPN during The Home Depot College Football Awards on Dec. 10.

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Western Kentucky is 5-0 in conference play for the first time since becoming members of the FBS following a 55-30 win over Old Dominion. WKU is 7-2 overall and undefeated in Conference USA. Led by standout quarterback Brandon Doughty, the Hilltoppers have exceeded 40 points in each of their C-USA games.

Doughty has tossed at least one scoring pass in 23 straight games and he was 21 of 28 for 276 yards Saturday. WKU was 7-0 in OVC play in 2000. The Toppers host Florida Atlantic this Saturday for Homecoming.

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