Story published: Sunday, September 17, 2006
You wouldn't know it by looking at him, but Kentucky defensive tackle Myron Pryor said he used to play a little tight end during his high school days at Louisville Eastern.
And it was Pryor's Jeremy Shockey-Tony Gonzalez impersonation that proved to be key in Kentucky's 31-14 win over Mississippi in front of 60,338 for its Southeastern Conference opener.The 6-foot-1, 300-pound Pryor made a leaping interception of a Brent Schaeffer pass deep in Kentucky territory that helped the Wildcats preserve a seven-point lead in the third quarter.
"I don't know many defensive linemen that can jump up and actually catch the ball," said UK Coach Rich Brooks. "I've seen some knock it down, but to catch it, that was a huge play."
"I kind of read the play when it first happened," Pryor said. "And then it was just me going up and getting the ball. Being a former tight end, I do know how to catch."
That was just one of several big plays for Pryor. He finished with a sack, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble and an interception despite playing only on UK's nickel packages while nursing a sprained foot and turf toe that caused him to miss the Texas State game last week.
"Myron was all over the field," said junior linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who finished with eight tackles and a fumble recovery of his own.
Pryor finally looked like the disruptive force that the coaching staff had been praising all spring practice and fall camp.
"This game was a big turning point for me," Pryor said. "We have nine games left, and each game, I'm hoping to do better."
The Wildcat defense, much-maligned after getting shredded by Louisville in the season opener, was both timely and opportunistic last night. UK gave up 395 yards, including 205 on the ground. But the Cats also forced five turnovers and came up with several key second-half stops.
The Kentucky offense carried the load in the first half, as Andre Woodson threw for three touchdowns to help UK take a 21-14 halftime lead.
UK struggled to generate offense in the third quarter, however, failing to pick up a first down on its first three possessions.
But Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) was never able to capitalize. The Rebels drove to the UK 10-yard line before Pryor's interception staved off that threat.
The Rebels then got to the Kentucky 26 early in the fourth when Pryor recovered a fumbled snap by Schaeffer that killed another drive.
That's when the offense came to life, putting together a 13-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in a 2-yard Tony Dixon touchdown run that made 28-14 with 5:30 left and gave the Cats a much-needed cushion.
The defense then sealed the deal with another big play. Cornerback Karl Booker delivered a jarring hit on running back Bruce Hall, forcing a fumble that was recovered by tackle Lamar Mills at the Ole Miss 28.
In addition to forcing five miscues, UK gave the ball away only once.
"That's huge," Brooks said. "That's the difference between me talking about a victory and (Ole Miss) Coach (Ed) Orgeron talking about a loss. We ought to win the game when we're plus four on takeaways."
The Rebels also had 12 penalties, including a personal foul that kept a UK drive alive after Patrick Willis sacked Woodson on third down. It would pave the way for Dixon's clinching touchdown.
"Obviously, 12 penalties and five turnovers is hard to overcome in any game," Orgeron said. "Give Kentucky its credit, but tonight we beat ourselves."
UK accomplished two milestones with the win. It won its conference opener for the first time since 1987 and went over the .500 mark for the first time in Brooks' four years as head coach.
"It's a step," Brooks said. "I don't know if it's a small, big or medium step, but it's a step. A step in the right direction."