By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Survive and advance. That has seemed to be the Kentucky Wildcat Football mantra since the second half of the South Carolina game. In that game the offense quit clicking and it seems to have had a dead battery since. It didn’t show up in the Texas A&M loss and was non-existent against Vanderbilt until the final quarter when they put together a 12 play 80-yard drive that resulted in the winning touchdown run by Benny Snell to seal the game for UK 14-7.
Then this week against the Missouri Tigers the offense once again was dead on arrival. No activity. No sign of life until the fourth quarter. Actually no sign of life until less than two minutes to go in the game. At precisely 1:34 to go in the fourth quarter the Kentucky offense took over the ball at their own 19-yard line needing to drive the length of the field for the winning score. In nothing short of a miraculous manner Terry Wilson threw two passes over the middle to an unlikely hero in former walk-on David Bouvier.
Then a quick pass to Lynn Bowden along the sideline netted UK 17-yards before Bowden stepped out of bounds at the 10-yard line to stop the clock. With four seconds left Terry Wilson threw a fade route to former Iowa basketball player turned Kentucky wide receiver Ahmad Wagner in the back corner of the end zone. Wagner came down with the ball but was ruled out of bounds. Fortunately for the Cats Missouri was called for pass interference on the play and UK was awarded one untimed play from the 2-yard line.
And that’s when the magic happened. Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran dialed up an out route to tight end CJ Conrad and quarterback Terry Wilson delivered. Conrad ran the perfect route and Wilson threw the perfect ball. Pitch and catch and just like that pandemonium broke loose on the Kentucky sideline. It was quite possibly the most improbable win by a Kentucky Football Team in the history of the program.
Keep in mind that the Wildcat offense had not scored a touchdown all night. Three points was all they could manage. The other six points came on a Lynn Bowden punt return late in the fourth quarter. The Missouri defense had stymied Benny Snell, the fourth leading rusher in the nation, holding him to only 67 yards on 19 carries. With very little help from the run game Kentucky had to turn to the arm of Terry Wilson to win the game. And win the game he did.
But he had an improbable cast of supporting players helping him. Wide receiver David Bouvier was huge in the last touchdown drive. He had two big catches over the middle to move UK down the field. Ahmad Wagner going up to get the ball in the back of the end zone like the basketball player that he was last year was also a huge play for this Kentucky team. That play set up the final winning throw to CJ Conrad in the end zone.
But as anemic as the offense was for 58 minutes and 26 seconds of the game the Kentucky defense was just the opposite. They were rock solid the whole game. They held a Missouri offense that had scored 65 points the week before against Memphis to a shutout in the second half. No points. No first downs. No victory. All night long the defense played like an SEC Championship team. Time after time they stopped Missouri on three-and-outs to give the ball back to the offense.
And did I mention how special the special teams were for UK. Not only did punter Max Duffy keep the Tigers pinned back most of the night but special teams player Darius West also blocked a field goal attempt and Lynn Bowden ran a punt back 67-yards for a touchdown.
On a night when Missouri’s Coach Barry Odum had the perfect game plan to defeat UK and with all the experts predicting a Kentucky loss the Cats found a way to win. They hung in there with a defense that has to be the best in the country and found a way to scratch out enough points to defeat the Tigers in Columbia.
And who could ask for more. The win kept Kentucky at the top of the SEC East Division and set up a winner-take-all showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday for the East Division Title. It also gave UK a winning record in the SEC for the first time since the 1977 team went 6-0.
Survive and advance. That’s exactly what this Kentucky team needs to try to do next Saturday against a Top 10 ranked Georgia Bulldogs team that eliminated the Florida Gators on Saturday from the SEC race to set up the winner-take-all match next week with the Cats.
Survive and advance. Continue to grind. Don’t flinch. They all sound like cliches but they ring true with this Kentucky team. Next Saturday the stakes will be huge. Once again Kentucky will be the underdog. And that’s exactly how they would want it to be. It only makes the victory that much sweeter when they survive and advance.