By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky really had no business even being in overtime at Texas A&M Saturday night, but yet that’s where the Cats were despite an anemic offensive performance except for a 54-yard, throw-and-run touchdown play by Lynn Bowden.
Kentucky trailed 14-7 when Darius West came up with a fumble recovery on a Texas A&M third down and one play that could have sealed the win. Not only did he get the fumble, but he returned it 40 yards for the tying score with 4 minutes, 17 seconds to play.
The Cats squandered a chance in the final 90 seconds of regulation to get into field goal range. In overtime, a 4-yard pass to Bowden followed by a 4-yard run by quarterback Terry Wilson — who went down way too easily short of the first down set up a third down at 2 at the A&M 17.
Even though Benny Snell had been held in check by the A&M defense, surely he had to get the ball. He’s the best running back in the SEC, UK’s best player and a power runner. But after an A&M timeout, UK got too cute. Way too cute. The Cats faked a run and Wilson looked to pass. Not only was no one open, but he took a sack and then Miles Butler was short on a 43-yard field goal try — which was not a huge surprise because coach Mark Stoops had passed up field goal tries of the same distance earlier this season.
Texas A&M quickly scored a touchdown to win 21-14 and leave UK thinking about what happened to its offense that has gone into a funk after the first half against South Carolina to why Snell did not get a touch in overtime.
Kentucky had 178 yards of total offense — and most of that came on a five-play, 68-yard scoring drive in the first quarter. After that, the Kentucky offense was stymied as the offensive line could not open holes for Snell — who got just 13 carries for 60 yards — and Wilson was tentative and not nearly as fast or efficient as he had been in the first five games. He was 13 of 20 passing for 108 yards — but again 54 came on a simple 1-yard forward pitch that Bowden turned into a 54-yard play.
Coach Mark Stoops said he considered going to backup quarterback Gunnar Hoak but decided to stick with Wilson.
“They were hard to move and they were very athletic,” Stoops said on his postgame radio show when asked about A&M’s defense. “We knew that and that is why we tried to throw the ball and keep them off balance. They made Terry very uncomfortable. They were good. Their defensive line escaped and made tackles and they ran to the ball on the perimeter.
“Give them credit. We tired to keep them off balance and that was ineffective as well. When throwing on first down, we really got behind the chains. When running, we were ineffective. I think the difference is they affected Terry in the pocket and when he tried to escape and they were athletic and tackled him.”
Tight end C.J. Conrad had two catches on UK’s first series. He was targeted just one more time the rest of the game.
The defense gave up 390 yards but it wore down because the UK offense went 3-and-out, 3-and-out, 3-and out. The defense forced two turnovers — both by West.
“I thought we played our hearts on defense,” Stoops said. “To hold them on 14 points in regulation when we were on the field all day because we were ineffective on offense … they absolutely played really, really good football. They were warriors.”
“I felt like we tried to limit their explosive plays. I feel like we played pretty well as a defense, but we definitely can tighten up more,” safety Mike Edwards said. “Sometimes we have to help the offense out. They had great defense, too. We just tried to make plays the best we can. They have explosive players all over the field. We did all we could and D. West made a huge play that we really needed.
“We got humbled tonight. We came in 5-0, ranked. But we got to play even bigger because we got humbled tonight. We have to recover, get people healthy and then come out and beat Vandy.”