Lexington Was 'Heartbreak City' Last Saturday
What has become known as the "annual heartbreak" collared the Kentucky Wildcats with their second straight loss of the season and put Jerry Claiborne's Cats in a position of desperately needing a huge upset to get back in the post season bowl picture.
Unlike a week earlier, the Cats gave a supreme effort Saturday before 57,000-plus at Commonwealth Stadium although the effort went fruitless as the LSU Tigers held on for a 25-16 win.
It wasn't until the final four minutes of the contest that LSU had safely tucked the victory away as the Wildcats kept refusing to die.
In the end, it simply was a case of talent and execution overcoming desire and effort. As it has happened so many times in the long Kentucky-LSU football series, the Tigers' talent finally prevailed.
Kentucky led twice in the contest, in the second period and early in the third quarter, but a comeback fell short midway through the fourth period when UK had to settle for a 49-yard Joey Worley field goal as the 'Cats sliced the LSU lead to 18-16.
The Tigers then drove the length of the field for a touchdown which put the game out of reach.
Although a loss is a loss, the effort put forth by the Wildcats certainly was a welcomed change from the exhibition in Jackson a week earlier when the 'Cats were listless in a lopsided loss to Ole Miss.
With a 3-2-1 record, the Cats desperately need an upset over a big-name team to get back in the groove for (1) a winning season and (2) a shot at a post season bowl.
Just a winning mark, at say 6-4-1, won't do it this fall for the Wildcats. In fact, 6^-1 may not get it done at all, but a win over a team like Georgia would go a long way toward convincing bowl scouts that the Cats are a worthy lot for a bowl invitation.
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At the midway point of the 1986 season, the report card for Kentucky is less than sparkling.
Disappointments were a tie to Rutgers and the big loss to Ole Miss. Wins over Cincinnati and Kent State went about as expected. Most impressive was the 32-0 shutout of Southern Miss.
Where do the 'Cats go from here?
Kentucky's next three games will definitely tell the tale, or at least go a long way toward determining the season's outcome. For UK to go bowling, the Cats almost have to go 4-1 or at least 3-2 the rest of the way.
And that's going to be mighty tough in light of what's happened in the past six games. With Georgia, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt, Florida and Tennessee on the horizion, UK is in a position of winning any of the five, all of the five, none of the five or any combination thereof.
The latter is more likely.
The 'Cats need to upset Georgia to restore some much-needed confidence. Another loss and the 'Cats could begin to second guess
themselves. Kentucky goes to Virginia Tech after the Georgia battle and there are no assurances that the Gobblers will be eaten this November.
Vanderbilt is suspect this season and Florida has returned to earth after a couple seasons in orbit. Tennessee has fallen on hard times, but Kentucky will still be outmanned.
Yes, all the marbles will be on the line this Saturday night.
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The biggest news to come out of the game Saturday night was of non-play of running back Mark Higgs.
Higgs did not see action and expressed his displeasure of riding the pines to reporters after the game. Higgs said he felt fine and was ready to play.
In his postgame comments, coach Jerry Claiborne said Higgs missed part of practice on Thursday with an ankle injury and did not play because the of the injury.
It's no secret that Higgs has been in the doghouse much of the season and that goes back to the summer. According to sources within the UK football circles, Higgs was one of the players who reported back to fall drills in less than "great shape."
On Thursday of the previous week. Higgs also reported suffering a slight ankle sprain and saw only limited action at Jackson against Ole Miss.
What appeared to be a stable full of horses at tailback has dwindled quickly in recent weeks. First Al Baker went down with a broken ankle. Ivy Joe Hunter has been nursing a back injury and then Higgs' problems. Marc Logan is left as the lone hero with Greg Baker also working out.
Higgs said he was particularly upset about missing the LSU game because he wanted to do so well because his brother (Kenny) went to school there.
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The football recruiting wars are really heating up and Jefferson County promises to be the hottest hotbed of the Commonwealth when signing date arrives in February.
Jefferson County owns at least six major college prospects and we're talking about seniors who can just about name any school they want to attend.
Recruiting experts say this current crop of Louisvillians is as good as any in recent memory. And all the big boys are making their pitch, schools such as Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama. Nebraska, Illinois, UCLA and Oklahoma, not to mention Kentucky and other big-time schools in the region.
Biggest of the big names is 6-4 tight end Jeff Ellis, a three-sport all-star athlete who could start for Kentucky right now according to one UK assistant. Ellis, who is the son of former boxing champion Jimmy Ellis, is being wooed by over 60 schools. Those close to the scene in Louisville believe Ellis will
eventually choose from a final list which most likely will include Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville because the youngster wants to remain near home.
Jerry Bell, a 6-3, 255-pound defensive lineman from Louisville DeSales is described to be another Oliver Barnett. Bell, according to one expert, is good enough to start for Kentucky today. Might be the best lineman in the state.
David Scott, a 6-1, 211-pound running back from Jeffersontown, is being recruited heavily by more than 20 schools. Those said to be high on his list are Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Arkansas.
Phil Logan, a 6-2, 185-pound wide receiver, is just as versatile as a defensive back from Louisville Holy Cross. He's so good that Alabama's Ray Perkins made a personal visit. One recruiting expert says he plays a lot like UK's Ron Robinson. Logan, says one college recruiter, is good enough to start for four years.
Two players who are considered real sleepers in the Jefferson County area are quarterback-defensive back Lee Tinsley and quarterback Jeff Houk of St. Xavier.
Tinsley, at 6-0, 185, is considered one of the state's top athletes and perhaps the No. 1 baseball prospect in the Commonwealth. An option quarterback, Kentucky coaches are high on this youngster.
Houk is one of those athletes who has the intangibles. At 6-2, 200, he has size and is considered an excellent sprint-out option threat.
Another prospect in Louisville is 6-1, 225-pound Darren Hayden of Fairdale who most likely will go the junior college route because of Proposition 48. A tight-end, lineman and tailback by trade, Hayden is capable of playing for most any major college if he could develop the grades.
Some of the top names out in the state to keep your eyes on are Newport Catholic tight end Frank Jacobs, Paducah Tilghman tailback-linebacker Billy Swanson, Bryan Station tailback William Dishman, Paducah Tilghman lineman Stacy Overline, Bryan Station linebacker Derrick Thomas and Corbin lineman Kent Carter.
In Knoxville, Tennessee, an estimated 1,500 basketball fans turned out for the Big Orange's version of Midnight Madness. At Nashville, some 150 souls paraded around in pajamas at Vanderbilt's basketball gym.
And then in Lexington, some 12,000 die-hards turned out at Memorial Coliseum for the annual affair which had to turn away more than 800 fans after the local fire marshall locked the doors when the 11,500-seat arena was filled beyond capacity.
It was some kind of an event for the Big Blue fans who were treated to more than $100,000 worth of free food, merchandise and gifts by the UK Athletics Association and local corporate sponsors.
Sponsoring the event with the UKAA were
Jack Kain Ford, Computer Color Corporation, Central Bank & Trust, Hyatt Regency Hotel. Southern States Bluegrass Region, Commonwealth Travel Agency, Blue Grass Coca-Cola, The Cats' Pause and Metro Piston.
Fans from as far as Florida in the South and Canada to the North made their way to Memorial Coliseum for the Cats' first practice of the year.
The event was billed as A Fan Appreciation Event by the UKAA.
UK athletics director Cliff Hagan said it was UK's way of saying thank you to the loyal Big Blue fans who have supported the Wildcats so faithfully over the years.
Tipping off the event that evening was an appearance of the 1953-54 Wildcats who compiled a perfect 25-0 mark before declining an invitation to the NCAA tournament.
That particular team won a playoff game against LSU in Nashville and then turned down the invitation because the NCAA ruled that three UK stars, including Ail-Americans Cliff Hagan and Frank Ramsey, could not play because they had already been in school eight semesters. They had played only three years because the Wildcats were denied a year's play the previous season by the NCAA because of probation.
It was the first reunion for that famous team.
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FIRST AND TENS ... If you've been making plans for the upcoming basketball season, don't make those plans too solid just yet. Southeastern Conference officials are expected to release a new, revised hoop card within the next week and at least two UK games are expected to be changed because of a new television agreement with the USA Network . . . Speaking of basketball, officials of the annual Naismith Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass., might invite Kentucky back there to open the campaign next season. Although no schedule has been released (that won't come until next summer), the 'Cats are already scheduled to play in the Great Alaskan Shootout. Ironically, the only other time UK played in the Tip-Off Classic, the 'Cats also played in Alaska the same season, back in 1979 . . . Representing the SEC at the Kentucky-LSU game Saturday was assistant commissioner Mark Womack.. . . LSU's win over UK Saturday insured the Tigers a decade of undefeated football at Commonwealth Stadium. The last time LSU lost in Lexington was during the 1976 season. The Tigers won't play again in Lexington until 1989. Although LSU should be back in 1988, the 'Cats will play two straight years in Baton Rouge as the SEC switches to a seven-game league card that year. Because UK wants to go with a 4-3, 3-4 home-and-away SEC card each season instead of a 2-5, 5-2, UK has agreed to play two straight seasons in Baton Rouge. UK officials say the 'Cats will be awarded a financial bonus by playing in Death Valley for two straight years.