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November 1, 2012There's no way to hide from a play that exposes an entire defense.
That's exactly what happened on Zac Stacy's 18-yard touchdown run against Kentucky last year. Nine UK defenders totaling 1,944 pounds threw themselves at the tailback. Body after body flew at Stacy, but UK couldn't stop him.
The game was all but decided before he took the handoff, but the play still made a statement.
"They didn't actually laugh at us, but that's how you feel," defensive end Collins Ukwu said. "It's like, this is who you are. They kind of pushed us around and that's something you don't want to have happen for his coming week at all."
Stacy took the ball on first and 10 and ran off tackle to the left. The right guard pulled into the gap between the tackle and the tight end, paving the way for Stacy to accelerate into the middle of the UK defense.
All-SEC linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback Cartier Rice made first contact with him after he'd gained about five yards. He didn't stop.
"Danny hit him first and usually when Danny hits him, he'll fall," sophomore linebacker Bud Dupree said. "He kept moving."
Winston Guy, still partially blocked by a Vanderbilt player, was the next Wildcat to hit Stacy. Safety Mikie Benton, positioned between the pile and the end zone, was in on the play after it had gained about nine yards.
There were six total players, including four UK defenders, mashed into a single huddle at this point. Still, Stacy lurched forward.
That's when things got really wild.
Ukwu had shed his block at the line of scrimmage by this point and barreled in on the pile from behind. He jumped on top of Stacy and reached down, trying to strip the ball out.
"That's something I kind of wish I didn't do because I feel like it kept his momentum going forward," Ukwu said. "He did a good job. That was a great play on his part, not quitting, churning his legs."
Safety Martavius Neloms came in from the side as Stacy appeared to grind to a halt. Defensive tackle Luke McDermott was behind him. Cornerback Randall Burden stood between the goal line and the pile as it looked like the run was over, three yards shy of a touchdown.
But a couple more Vanderbilt offensive linemen had reached the scrum by that point. They attacked low, pushing it forward ever so slightly. Dupree, who began the play on the opposite side of the field, jumped on top of the pile, but never got a good hold on Stacy.
Just when it looked like all his momentum had been lost, the mash of white and gold jerseys surged forward. Burden threw his wiry frame into the fray, but it was too late. Stacy, surrounded by a cocoon of blockers and would-be tacklers, crossed the goal line and emerged, still standing.
"I couldn't believe it," Dupree said.
A year later, UK's defenders still can't hide from it.
Defensive line coach David Turner started every meeting for his players this week by showing the video. He also texted them the video. They can't escape it. The play showed up on Vanderbilt's season highlight reel, on ESPN's top plays, and in film study.
"It's something that disgusts you a little bit," Ukwu said. "You feel like that play isn't what you're about personally and defensively. You don't want plays like that. That was something the coaches keep parlaying to us every day."
Plays like that aren't what the Wildcats want to be known for, but that's the lasting image from that day. Vanderbilt handled Kentucky easily, winning 38-8 in the most lopsided meeting between the two schools in decades.
Every UK player remembers that. It's now a matter of moving past it.
"Well, we try to keep our eyes forward rather than our eyes back," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "We try to work on tackling and keeping our legs going and play to the whistle and try to avoid those type of situations. That's a credit to the runner in those situations. We try to go forward."
And they'll try to keep Stacy from moving forward. The pile-pushing run was his third touchdown run of the game last year. He finished with 135 yards, but none left more of an impact that those 18. His last touchdown is still what UK's players think of first.
They've had to face it all over again. They still can't escape it. They hope this Saturday will be different.
"I don't want to see that this week," Ukwu said.