Kentucky solves Spurrier, saves season

Joker Phillips’ first signature win at Kentucky was soon
followed by his signature morning routine.

Up early. Film. Deep breath. Get ready to do it again.

The Wildcats salvaged their season – for now – with a thrilling
31-28 comeback victory over then-No. 10 South Carolina on Saturday
night, a game that ended with fans storming the field at
Commonwealth Stadium and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier
gripping his trusty visor in frustration.

”This team is starting to grow right before our eyes,”
Phillips said after the Wildcats beat the Head Ball Coach for the
first time in 18 tries.

The Wildcats (4-3, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) are doing it
just in time. They had lost three straight coming in, including a
pair of narrow defeats to Mississippi and Auburn.

Phillips stressed it wasn’t time to panic, but it certainly
looked like it when the Gamecocks rode freshman running back Marcus
Lattimore to an 18-point halftime lead.

Phillips admits there was a sense of urgency in the locker room
as the season reached a tipping point, a moment that started when
the Wildcats forced a South Carolina fumble in the final seconds of
the half that prevented the Gamecocks from turning the game into a
blowout.

”They score then, you’re down 35-10, down 25 instead of 18,”
he said. ”I think that was the turning point in my opinion …
(it) gave our kids a sense of having a chance.”

Kentucky took advantage, dominating the final 30 minutes after
Lattimore went down with an ankle injury. Quarterback Mike Hartline
led three lengthy touchdown drives, the final one culminating in a
24-yard touchdown pass to wide-open Randall Cobb with 1:15 to
play.

The 2-point conversion pushed the lead to three and when Anthony
Mosley picked off South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia in the end zone
with 4 seconds left, a season on the verge of spiraling out of
control was suddenly brought back to life.

”It is one of those things that sometimes it is just better to
be lucky than good,” said Hartline, who finished with 349 yards
passing and four touchdowns.

Hartline and the Wildcats were both in the second half. They
held the Gamecocks to 103 total yards over the final two quarters,
49 of which came during a last-minute desperation drive.

The school’s first victory over South Carolina this millennium
could make the Wildcats a factor in the chaotic SEC East. Four
teams already have three losses in the league, including Kentucky
and Georgia (3-4, 2-3), whom the Wildcats host on Saturday. The
teams have split the last four meetings.

Phillips isn’t quite ready to call the Wildcats contenders. Yet
he knows they’re a lot closer than they were at halftime on
Saturday.

He pointed to his team’s gutty performance as proof it hadn’t
lost faith.

”Every week it’s going to be a game that you got to fight,
scratch and claw to win,” he said. ”We got one of those type of
games this week. It makes it easier for us to get our point across
and getting them to play hard. You can’t relax and line up and just
show up and beat a team like Georgia. You just can’t do it.”

The Gamecocks stress they weren’t overlooking the Wildcats after
upsetting defending national champion Alabama a week ago, but
something shifted when Lattimore went down. The offense stopped
moving the ball and the defense let the Wildcats steadily chip away
at the lead.

”Their guys just came out hungry,” South Carolina defensive
tackle Travian Robertson said. ”They just wanted it. I’m not
saying we didn’t. It was just a tough SEC team fighting for
it.”

South Carolina remains in front of the SEC East, but lost a
chance to open up some breathing room. Spurrier refused to make
excuses.

”The other team just beat us,” he said. ”That’s all you can
say.”