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.”