ATHENS, Georgia — As Kentucky celebrated the reversal of a Georgia first down at midfield early in the game, the Wildcats taking possession away from the Bulldogs, a Big Blue fan walking the rain-soaked sideline did a little hop step and pumped his fists.
Cats came to Athens to play but left empty-handed
“We’re here to play,” hissed Eli Capiluto.
He’s a big UK fan. He also happens to be the President of the university.
The good doctor stayed on the soggy field, buffeted by wind and rain, for most of the contest which was tied 0-0 at halftime. But by the bitter end, his team was water-logged by just a handful of mistakes – enough to allow the Dawgs to float home with a 21-0 victory.
Georgia was coming off a shocking loss to South Carolina that saw the Gamecocks play the Bulldogs right out of their silver britches. But that was primarily because UGA turned it over four times and USC, zilch.
On a night that would have had Noah looking for extra flood insurance, the home team was perfect in the turnover department and made few mistakes of any other ilk. It was the Wildcats who finally blinked after the zip-zip first half.
Kentucky burst out of the locker room and into the third quarter with an offensive efficiency that found the Cats looking at first and 10 inside the Georgia 20-yard line. But alas, upfield, a yellow hanky stood out against the soggy turf. It signaled a holding call against the Cats. Opportunity, missed.
The Wildcats would get even closer, later in the third quarter, as quarterback Lynn Bowden raced around right end, deliciously close to pay dirt. A Georgia defender had to make a decision. He chose to leave UK running back Chris Rodriguez in the end zone and rush to Bowden, who calmly flipped a pass to the newly wide-open Rodriguez.
The pass was high, but catchable. No such luck.
UK knocked one last time in the fourth, pushing deep into the red zone, only to come up snake eyes once again.
The scoreless first half seemed so long ago, partly because the plunging temperatures and relentless precipitation made time seem to agonizingly stand still. But it was also because the Cats were piling up mistakes. In the first two quarters, both teams were crisply efficient and the half quickly disappeared into the rainy night.
One of the UK second-half errors was – gasp – a shanked punt by the nation’s best, Max Duffy. In that first half he had leaped and hauled in an errant snap with all the grace, aplomb and calm of a gifted wide receiver. The Aussie who grew up playing rugby and soccer – two sports not known for putting a high premium on manual dexterity – not only made the grab but righted himself and boomed another punt, flipping the field.
His shank was a stunner and on the next play, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift bolted 39 yards for a touchdown. A Bowden fumble also led to a Bulldog score; the UK offense never could answer.
It was a game virtually no one claiming citizenship in the Big Blue Nation ever believed the Wildcats would win – especially after the wake up call Carolina delivered in Athens last Saturday. But now, UK fans will think of this one as a possible upset that got away.
A handful of things would have had to go right for it to happen, but Kentucky DID shorten the game, literally, by 30 minutes.
Soccer fans love to tell us that a 0-0 contest can be a beautiful thing. To which most of us politely smile, turn away and roll our eyes, dreaming of touchdowns, quarterback sacks and bowl games.
But as the mistakes began to pile up along with Bulldog touchdowns in the second half, the memory of nil-nil seemed sweet. Even, no doubt, to a university president soaked to the bone but happily watching his team, which had come to play. Sadly, it went home empty-handed.