Kentucky's man-to-man pass defense, so vulnerable in losses to Louisville and Florida, turned stifling and the defense forced three Arkansas turnovers Saturday, keying the Wildcats' biggest victory over a top 25 opponent since 1993.
"We have had a tendency to come out and not play hard," linebacker Marlon McCree said. "For this game, we came out and got the ball."
Kentucky (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) jumped to a 21-0 lead on two touchdown catches by Quentin McCord, then kept Arkansas (2-2, 0-2 SEC) at arm's length in the second half. Only a late drive by Razorbacks quarterback Clint Stoerner cut the final Arkansas deficit to 10 points.
It was the defense, though, that was the heart of the Wildcats' biggest victory over a ranked opponent since a 21-0 victory over Mississippi in 1993.
Widely expected to carry a greater load for Kentucky this season, the defense had disappointed through four games, giving up an SEC-worst average of 392.8 yards and 35.7 points.
That was before Saturday's interceptions by McCree and Anthony Wajda, a blocked field goal by defensive end Dennis Johnson, 10 tackles by frenetic Jeff Snedegar and six pass breakups by cornerback Eric Kelly, who covered preseason all-SEC wideout Anthony Lucas.
Kelly gave up 4 inches to the 6-foot-3 Lucas, but surrendered almost nothing on the field, as Lucas finished with just two catches for 14 yards.
"Hats off to Eric Kelly," McCree said. "Eric Kelly was the best in the country today."
"They play a whole different kind of man coverage," Stoerner, the Arkansas quarterback, said. "It has to be a perfect throw to get the ball in there. I just wasn't perfect today.
Several defensive players were inspired by a Friday night meeting in which coordinator Mike Major distributed an article from Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette headlined "UK defense may be cure for UA's ills."
"I read that to them, read them a couple of other articles that had said some not very attractive things about our defensive players, and told them this is the game that we have to step up and be accounted for," Major said. "Every now and then, you've just got to go and take the hill."
A caller to Kentucky coach Hal Mumme's radio show this week had told Mumme he should fire Major, a suggestion that caused the coach to bristle. "I'd like to talk about that guy who called the (show) wanting to fire the defensive coordinator," he said sarcastically after Saturday's victory.
The controversy got the attention of Major's players.
"We kind of had a heart-to-heart, talking about what we need to do, how he (Major) can only do so much, we've got to go out there and do the rest, and I think that's what we did today," Johnson said.
Stoerner spent half the game on the Arkansas bench after being yanked by coach Houston Nutt when he threw a second-quarter interception to McCree. With his team trailing 21-0, Nutt went to freshman Robby Hampton.
"I just didn't feel like Clint was in sync early," he said.
Hampton immediately led the Razorbacks on an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by Chrys Chukwuma's 1-yard touchdown plunge, making the score 21-6 Kentucky at the half.
Hampton played nearly two quarters, leading another short touchdown drive in the third quarter before Stoerner returned in the fourth quarter, with the game out of reach, to lead the Razorbacks on their last scoring drive.
Stoerner finished 17-of-31 for 131 yards with one interception, Hampton 8-of-18 for 87 yards and one TD with one interception, a pickoff by Wajda that set up the Wildcats' final field goal.
Freshman Cedric Cobbs led Arkansas rushers with 70 yards on 18 carries. Derek Homer ran for 64 yards and Anthony White had 63 yards for Kentucky.
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