All of the Kentucky coaches tried hard not to use the word "frustrated," but it was clear that's what they were feeling after the Cats suffered their fourth straight loss Saturday.
After No. 20 Mississippi State's 27-14 defeat of UK in front of 49,498 at Commonwealth Stadium, head coach Joker Phillips was at the podium talking about what Kentucky was supposed to be at the start of the season.
"We thought we could put it all together and have a pretty good football team," he said, before adding, "it's still out there."
If it's out there, it's going to have to be cobbled together quickly and with fewer of the top players UK thought it was going to have.
It's been a rough October so far for the Cats, who lost starting quarterback Maxwell Smith and running back CoShik Williams earlier this week to injuries. One of UK's key backups, freshman quarterback Patrick Towles, was impressive his short time on the field Saturday before suffering his own ankle injury.
"Obviously, we're having to play much different than we planned to play and what we wanted to play," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "We worked all spring, all fall camp and the first three games playing one way and now we've been thrust into playing a completely different way."
The result was another true freshman quarterback, Jalen Whitlow, trying to lead UK back from a deficit, but struggling with his control in finding open receivers.
"Just couldn't really throw the ball in the ocean today," said Whitlow, who completed just 10 of his 21 throws for 73 yards. "That's not good."
Sanders expected more from his young quarterback.
"I'm going to answer this nicely: It wasn't close to what I expected," he said when asked about the play of Whitlow. "We had some great looks to throw the ball and had some people open and we've got to hit them, with no question."
The Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) outgained Kentucky by nearly 200 yards of offense, 427-228, behind Tyler Russell's 269 passing yards and touchdown throws to Chad Bumphis and Adrian Marcus.
LaDarius Perkins added 110 yards on the ground, including a 31-yard run late in the first quarter that gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead.
Whitlow took the field first for UK and on the first two drives led the Cats to back-to-back three and outs for 4 total yards.
Towles entered, his redshirt removed. He led UK on a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 32-yard pass to La'Rod King to get UK within a touchdown, 14-7. On that drive, Towles completed all five of his passes for 71 yards.
"The game went well when I was in there, unfortunately it didn't end well and we've just got to get better," Towles said afterward.
Devon Bell added a 20-yard field goal late in the first half to give the Bulldogs a 17-7 advantage and Towles took the field for what looked like his first attempt at a two-minute drill, but he started the series by getting sacked for 12 yards.
That was the play where he sprained his right ankle. He spent the second half on the sidelines on crutches.
Towles wasn't the only key injury for the Cats, who also lost safety Martavius Neloms to a hamstring injury and safety Ashely Lowery to concussion-like symptoms.
Defensive coordinator Rick Minter looked around in the second half and realized UK had just six healthy players remaining in the secondary.
"If turn about is fair play and the breaks equal out some day, then we're in for some great days down the road as far as being healthy and being older," Minter said. "Right now we're losing guys almost by the bushels."
But he said the coaches and players can't use that as an excuse.
"Our motto is, 'next man in' and so we've got to step up and play," he said. "We can't cry sour milk and sour grapes and all that stuff. We've just got to line up and play."
It looked like Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC) would get out of the first half down 10 points, but game officials said MSU Coach Dan Mullen managed to get a timeout in time to set up a 37-yarder for Bell to give the Bulldogs a 20-7 lead at the half.
Kentucky was outgained 278-90 in the first half, including being outrushed 101-17. Perkins had 74 yards at the break for the Bulldogs.
Early in the second half, Mississippi State made scoring look easy, needing just 54 seconds and two plays for Russell to find Bumphis for a 27-yard scoring pass to make it 27-7.
UK responded with a 3-yard bootleg run on the right side for Whitlow to get within two touchdowns, but the Cats wouldn't get any closer.
Frustration was clear on the faces of the coaches and players, but they tried to keep putting a stoic face forward.
"I expect them to play better," Sanders said. "We've got to play better; we've definitely got to play better than we played today if we want to have a chance."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com,