- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

Andre Woodson earned a callback from central Heisman casting by outdueling Louisville’s Brian Brohm last week in Lexington, Ky. Now, the relatively unheralded Kentucky quarterback takes the suddenly serious Wildcats (3-0) to Fayetteville, Ark., where he will have the opportunity to upstage the college game’s premier player in Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden.

“It’s tough to say the ante goes up after you face [Brohm] and Louisville’s outstanding offense, but that’s life in the SEC,” Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. “I think most every coach in this league would agree that Andre and McFadden are right at the top of the list when it comes to conference MVP candidates. McFadden gets a little more publicity, and he’s earned it. But that could change Saturday.”

The perception of both Woodson and Kentucky football changed dramatically last week in a span of seven seconds. That’s how long it took Woodson and the Wildcats to reverse a lifetime of second-class status against the Cardinals.

As a senior at North Hardin (Ky.) High School in 2003, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Woodson was one of the nation’s top prep quarterback prospects and an invitee to the prestigious EA Sports Elite 11 quarterback camp. Alas, few outside the UK family noticed because the Bluegrass State belonged to Trinity High golden boy Brohm. Folks in thoroughbred country pay close attention to bloodlines. And when it comes to quarterback genes, Brohm probably was calling audibles in the womb. Brohm’s father, Oscar, and both of his brothers, Greg and Jeff, played football at Louisville, and both Oscar and Jeff were standout quarterbacks.

Brian Brohm’s Trinity teams bested Woodson’s North Hardin squads in both high school meetings, and the trend continued at the college level; Brohm and the ninth-ranked Cardinals (2-1) entered Saturday’s game at Commonwealth Stadium 2-0 against Woodson and boasting four straight victories over the Wildcats in the Governor’s Cup.

But something crazy happened on the way. With just 35 seconds remaining and Kentucky trailing 34-33 and facing first-and-25 from its own 43, Woodson baited Louisville’s cornerback by looking away from wideout Steve Johnson during his drop and then lofted a 57-yard dagger down the left sideline to score the program’s biggest victory in three decades.

“We had noticed their corners pinching in toward the middle and sucking in earlier in the game,” Woodson said of the play that earned Kentucky its first victory over a top-10 team in 47 tries since 1977 against Penn State. “The second I let it go I just started praying for Stevie to catch it because I knew it was a good ball.”

Woodson, a senior, hasn’t thrown many bad balls since Randy Sanders arrived in Lexington to coach quarterbacks after Woodson’s erratic sophomore season. Woodson lost the starting job that spring to dual-threat quarterback Curtis Pulley but spent the summer working, studying film and listening to Sanders, who like Woodson had something to prove after being ousted as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee.

The result was a shocking transformation. Woodson belied his 8-to-7 career touchdown-to-interception ratio during a 2006 season in which he tossed 31 touchdown passes against only seven interceptions, leading the Southeastern Conference in passing yards with 3,515. Kentucky notched upset victories over Georgia 24-20 and Clemson 28-20 in the Music City Bowl to finish 8-5.

Given the wealth of complementary weapons returning for the Wildcats, including running back Rafael Little, tight end Jacob Tamme and wide receivers Keenan Burton and Johnson, Woodson never flirted with turning pro after his superb junior campaign. And he entered this season listed as Mel Kiper’s No. 2 quarterback prospect … behind, of course, Brohm.

That ranking blurred a bit more Saturday, when Woodson completed 30 of 44 passes for 275 yards and four touchdowns. Though he lacks Brohm’s pinpoint accuracy, Woodson boasts a stronger arm. And Saturday night he broke David Greene’s SEC record for attempts without an interception. With 257 in a row, Woodson needs just 14 more passes without a pick to match Trent Dilfer’s NCAA record set in 1993 at Fresno State. But most importantly for Kentucky, the victory over Louisville earned the 21st-ranked Wildcats their first appearance in the Associated Press poll since 1985.

“Kentucky football fans haven’t had much to cheer about over the years,” senior center Eric Scott said. “That’s Andre’s gift to the program and the state.”

Though the upset over Louisville provided a program-defining victory, the next step for Woodson and the Wildcats would be sustained success in the SEC; Kentucky hasn’t posted a winning record in the conference since 1977. That quest begins tomorrow against the electric McFadden and Arkansas (1-1). And judging by last week’s uprising, Woodson and the Wildcats are ready to bury their history of standing in the shadows.

“As I said at the start of the year, we have a pretty darn good football team,” Brooks said. “We should be capable of beating teams like that on occasion. Hopefully, we can do it on a regular basis. … I’m just very proud of what [these players] have been able to accomplish — and become — to bring back some respect to Kentucky football.”

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