Story published: Sunday, October 29, 2006
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks and offensive coordinator Joker Phillips will both tell you that sophomore receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. drives them crazy at times.
The latest episode came last week when Lyons popped off about Mississippi State, UK's opponent yesterday.But Lyons came out and showed exactly why Brooks and Phillips are willing to put up with the craziness.
Days after mouthing off, Lyons backed up his words with a career-high eight receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown on a one-handed, highlight-reel catch in the back of the end zone.
Lyons' efforts, combined with a big day from backup running back Alfonso Smith and a defense that snuffed out the MSU running game, allowed Kentucky to escape with a 34-31 win over the Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium.
UK (4-4, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) is within two wins of qualifying for its first bowl game since 1999.
"Obviously it's a great win, I don't care how you cut it," Brooks said. "Mistakes were made, whatever.
"I think we earned the win. Was it comfortable? No. Did I ever expect it to be? No. Every time, we answered the bell and made the plays we had to make."
Lyons might have made the play of the year for the Wildcats late in the first quarter. With UK up 7-0 and facing a second-and-eight from the Mississippi State 18, Andre Woodson play-faked and threw over the middle for Lyons, who was wide open in the end zone.
But Woodson took a big hit as he let the ball go and appeared to have led Lyons too much on the pass. But Lyons went up in the air, snagged the ball with his right hand, and brought the ball into his body while just landing inbounds.
The official originally ruled that Lyons was out of bounds and the pass was incomplete. UK lined up for its next play with backup Curtis Pulley at quarterback in place of Woodson.
However, with the play clock running down, Pulley called a timeout. Once play was set to resume, the officials called timeout before reviewing Lyons' catch and ruling it a touchdown.
Brooks said the original ruling would have stood if Pulley hadn't called timeout.
"I don't know what took them so long to review it," he said. "It must have been real close. That was like getting a gift from the gods."
Brooks called Lyons' catch "unbelievable" and said he was proud of how Lyons played. But Brooks, who publicly chided Lyons for his controversial statements last week, is also clearly trying to keep the eccentric Lyons in check. He made Lyons unavailable to the media after the game and also chastised him for running a wrong route on a play that resulted in a Woodson interception in the second quarter.
Woodson said that the players wanted Lyons to have a big day.
"Obviously we didn't want him to come out and have the worst game of his career after something like that," Woodson said. "So we just tried to get him the ball and let him make plays and back his words. The whole team was going to support him."
As for the coaches, Phillips admitted that sometimes they have to ride the wave with Lyons, who now has eight touchdown catches for the season.
"Today you love him, tomorrow it might be different," Phillips said. "He may do or say something in a meeting that might make you not love him anymore.
"But the kid competes his tail off."
And while Brooks gave Lyons props for his circus catch, Phillips didn't sound too impressed.
"That's routine," Phillips said. "He kept trying to tell me what a great catch that was. I told him that's what we pay your scholarship for. That's on our tip sheet: Go out there and make a play."
Lyons' TD gave UK a 14-0 lead, but two plays allowed the Bulldogs to get right back in it.
MSU quarterback Mike Henig hit Tony Burks on a slant that went 75 yards for a TD with 10:21 left in the second quarter. On the next play from scrimmage, State linebacker Quinton Culberson stripped Kentucky tailback Tony Dixon and recovered the fumble at the UK 12. That set up a Henig 15-yard touchdown pass to Jamayel Smith that tied the game at 14 with 8:42 to go in the first half.
Smith, a speedy 6-foot-1, 190-pound freshman, has spent most of the year behind Dixon and Rafael Little on the depth chart at tailback.
But with Little back in Lexington with a knee injury and Dixon sitting out the second half with a pulled hamstring, Smith proved to be the difference. He gave UK the lead for good with a 3-yard TD run on the Wildcats' first drive of the second half and finished with 92 rushing yards on 17 carries and caught two passes for 57 yards.
MSU (2-7, 0-5) racked up some huge passing numbers. Henig threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns while Burks had seven catches for 192 yards and two scores.
But UK held the Bulldogs to 24 yards rushing on 24 carries, the lowest output by an opponent since Vandy ran for minus-29 yards in 1996.
Still, the Cats had to go to the wire before putting the Bulldogs away. After Woodson hit Keenan Burton for a 33-yard touchdown pass to give Kentucky a 31-17 lead early in the fourth, Henig needed less than two minutes to get State within a touchdown on a 36-yard pass to Burks. MSU tailback Anthony Dixon cut the margin to 34-31 on a 1-yard run at 2:20, but UK recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.