UK Learning Fine Line between Success, Failure in 2-0 Start

Shannon Dawson saw how the first play of the second half was developing and licked his lips.

Facing the same look against which UK had racked up a big gain, Dawson dialed up a quick outside zone run with Boom Williams. The offensive line blocked to perfection and the South Carolina safeties rolled away from the play. If everything went according to plan, Williams would be running for a while.

Instead, Patrick Towles had to reach to receive the shotgun snap, knocking Williams just off course enough to limit the gain to six yards.

“There’s a million factors why plays are successful and not,” Dawson said after practice on Tuesday.

And to boot, Jordan Swindle was whistled for holding, putting UK behind the chains and short-circuiting the drive before it got started. In the blink of an eye, a huge play that could have made the Wildcats’ big halftime lead even bigger turned into first-and-20.

“You hit that play and you never know,” Dawson said. “That might flip the whole tide and deflate them. But we didn’t.”

After the Gamecocks cut into UK’s lead with a field goal, the Cats seemed to have another good drive starter. But then Zach West was called for holding to nullify a 12-yard catch by Dorian Baker. UK would again go three-and-out and the comeback was on.

“When a couple things go against you in situations like that and stadiums like that, then their defense has got energy, their stadium’s got energy,” Dawson said. “And then to get that momentum flipped, it’s tough.”

The momentum didn’t flip until Denzil Ware picked up a two-point conversion fumble by Pharoh Cooper and sprinted the length of the field to give UK a 26-22 lead. It was then that the offense shook off the failures that had come by razor-thin margins and mounted a game-ending drive that lasted 10 plays and 4:49.

“To be honest with you, I think it’s just a product of everybody relaxing, not panicking,” Dawson said. “Because it’s easy to panic in those situations when things aren’t going your way.”

It was the second week in a row the Cats avoided panic.

In the season opener, UK stemmed the tide of a furious UL Lafayette rally with a game-winning drive punctuated by a Mikel Horton touchdown with less than a minute left. That ability to produce with the game on the line bodes well both this weekend as the Cats look to end a 28-game losing streak against Florida and beyond.

“I think football today, I think the games are close,” Dawson said. “If you look across the nation, there’s not many people just beating people by 40 points. Unless it’s just a complete mismatch. We haven’t played a complete mismatch yet. We didn’t play a complete mismatch the first game and we didn’t play one Saturday. And we’re not going to play one. That’s just the way it is.”

Nonetheless, the Cats would rather avoid the second-half woes that have allowed back-to-back opponents to rally from 24-7 halftime deficits. What does Dawson plan to do to get it done?

“Nothing,” Dawson said. “I told the guys Monday when I talked to them, I said, ‘Don’t make something out of nothing. Understand—watch the film and understand that we were this close to doing the same thing the third quarter. This close.”

OK, so it’s not as if Dawson is going to abandon his coaching dutiest. He’s just not going to make a mountain out of a molehill.

“We had really one guy, one guy each time that made a mistake,” Dawson said. “We gotta overcome it coaching, but the worst thing you can do is create a problem. Just go out and play ball. I’m not going to say anything to them.”