Date story was published: Sunday, October 14, 1984
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- A faked punt may have turned the game around, but there was nothing illusionary about Kentucky's gutty 17-13 victory yesterday over Mississippi State.
In their Southeastern Conference debut, the signs were all too apparent for a probable Wildcat defeat.
There were fumbles and an interception, the kind of mistakes UK opponents had been making.
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There were squandered opportunities early in the game when the Wildcats had all the field position and only a 3-3 halftime deadlock to show for it.
There was Bill Ransdell, statistically the nation's sixth-most-efficient quarterback, throwing the ball everywhere but to his receivers.
Why, even old reliable George Adams failed to run for his weekly 100 (or more) yards.
And still Kentucky won, becoming the first UK team to open a football season with five straight victories in 34 years. Not since Paul "Bear" Bryant's Sugar Bowl-bound team opened the 1950 season with 10 straight victories has a Wildcat team begun a fall so successfully.
A fast start was not the case yesterday, however. For much of three quarters, the best weapon in UK's offense was the one the Cats would rather not use at all: Paul Calhoun's right leg. The senior from Louisville would punt eight times on the day for a 50-yard average. Calhoun's booming kicks, which included a 62- and 60-yarder, repeatedly pushed Mississippi State into a hole.
Indeed, the Bulldogs, who eventually lost for the third time in six games, appeared to be digging their own grave in the early going. On the game's first play, when the Bulldogs went immediately to their feared option offense, the Cat defense forced a fumble at the MSU 45-yard line. The Bulldogs' first pass was picked off by Tony Mayes at the home team's 25.
How bottled up was Mississippi State? The Bulldogs didn't get a first down until 11:31 remained in the second quarter.
Still, for all their early advantages, the Cats could do no better than get a 31-yard field goal from freshman Joey Worley on his first collegiate kick.
Otherwise, the Bulldogs played a waiting game and appeared to be winning it.
Against a UK defense already weakened by injury (Jeff Smith's three weeks ago; Jon Dumbauld's sprained ankle in the second quarter), MSU marched steadily to a tying field goal before the half.
After trading big-play touchdowns in the third quarter, the Bulldogs again drove to a field goal.
Artie Cosby's second three-pointer put MSU ahead 13-10 with less than 12 minutes remaining.
With no fewer than six starters sidelined because of an injury yesterday, Kentucky appeared in trouble. Linebacker Larry Smith, already hindered by a tender ankle, sprained a knee. Offensive guard Jim Reichwein suffered a concussion. Center Ken Pietrowiak injured an knee. Besides Dumbauld, tight end Oliver White, defensive tackle Jerry Reese and offensive tackle Vernon Johnson sprained ankles.
The three UK plays after the go-ahead field goal netted only nine yards. In came Calhoun to punt on fourth-and-one from the UK 26-yard line.
With one not-so-daring move, Calhoun was off and running. And so was UK, revived at mid-field.
As in the Indiana game, when he caught the Hoosiers with their backs turned and ran 47 yards for a touchdown, Calhoun did not have to sneak. He took the snap and waited. The Bulldogs peeled back for a return. MSU's slippery Orlando Lundie had nullified some of Calhoun's kicking by returning five of his punts for 49 total yards.
This time, however, the only return was a lightning-strikes-twice flashback to Sept. 15 and Bloomington, Ind.
"I was very surprised," Calhoun said of the run. "It wasn't anything I'd planned. There was a lot of time left (more than 10 minutes). The way our defense was playing, I figured we'd get the ball back.
"They didn't rush. They just kept running the other way. After the Indiana game, I'd thought they'd be alert to it."
If Mississippi State didn't do its homework, the Cats did. In reviewing game films, UK Coach Jerry Claiborne said that he spotted an inconsistent rush on the punter.
"I was really anticipating it," Claiborne said. "I told Paul, 'Any time you feel you can make it, take off.' "
From the sideline as he watched the MSU return team ignore Calhoun, Claiborne knew the time was right.
"I wanted to yell, 'Run!, Run!' " the UK coach said, "but I was afraid they (MSU) would hear me."
Boosted by Calhoun's heady play, Ransdell quickly guided UK's suddenly proficient offense to the winning score. The sophomore from Elizabethtown hit all five of his pass attempts on the drive, throwing for 50 of the march's 83 yards. An 18-yard pass to a slanting Cisco Bryant put UK at the 4. After Mark Logan bulled to the half-yard line, Adams followed fullback Chris Derry over the left side for the winning touchdown.
The Ransdell-to-Bryant connection struck for a 57-yard touchdown in the third quarter, erasing a 10-3 Mississippi State lead. It came one play after a 34-yard pass-and-run play from Ransdell to Joe Phillips was nullified by a Cornell Burbage clip.
On the next snap, Ransdell retreated and found Bryant a step ahead of the defender on what UK calls a "Post 82" route. Bryant, a junior wide receiver from Bowling Green, simply sprinted down the left side of the field and cut toward the middle. Ransdell hit Bryant in stride at the MSU 20 and the Cats had a touchdown.
"All day we were trying to run that play," Bryant said. "They kept jumping back into a two-deep (zone in the secondary). We waited for them to jump into a man (coverage)."
While Ransdell hit Bryant perfectly, the UK quarterback hadn't been so accurate earlier. Of his previous 20 passes, Ransdell had completed only eight - seven to his UK teammates and one to MSU safety R.J. McKenna. That interception was an ill-advised floater toward a covered Burbage in the end zone early in the first quarter and snuffed one of UK's chances to build a quick commanding lead.
"The receivers were wide open all day long; I just didn't hit them," said Ransdell, who nevertheless completed his last seven passes, all with the game on the line. "Our receivers are the best in the SEC, and that's no bull."
Still, Ransdell said that MSU had the best secondary he had faced this season.
UK had surrendered many passing yards going into the game, but the Cats were only burned once yesterday. Mississippi State wingback Louis Clark beat Gary Sexton, UK's back-up safety, over the middle, and Don Smith hit him with a 56-yard touchdown pass. It marked the second straight game Smith and Clark had collaborated on a 56-yard scoring pass, and it put the Bulldogs up 10-3 with 9:53 remaining.
Otherwise, Smith, who entered the game with a 42-percent completion average, completed only four of 14 passes. The sophomore had hardly any better luck running, his forte. Against Southern Mississippi last week, Smith rushed for 130 yards on 11 carries. Yesterday, the UK defense limited Smith to 39 yards on 11 carries.
UK's running threats were equally frustrated. Mark Higgs, who electrified Cat fans a week ago, was shortcircuited. He managed 10 yards on six carries. Mark Logan gained 47 yards on 14 carries, but his fumble ended UK's first drive of the second half at the Kentucky 42.
Adams, who had rushed for 504 yards in the first four games, carried 21 times against the Bulldogs and got 90 yards, but 55 of those yards came on one play. Adams sprinted to the MSU 12 on the play before being caught from behind.
Three plays later, UK had to settle for Worley's field goal.
Such was UK's offense in the first half. Poor field possession couldn't be blamed. The Cats' first five possessions began at the MSU 45, the UK 42, the UK 33, the MSU 25 and the UK 45.
Worley's field goal was the only score. The other possessions ended with a punt, Ransdell's interception, a fumble by the usually sure-handed Adams, and a punt.
But the bottom line was: