Last Saturday night in Starkville, with the game on the line, University of Kentucky receiver Chris Matthews zigged when he should have zagged.
It was UK's final possession of the game, and the Cats were trailing 24-17. Matthews had caught a 15-yarder from Mike Hartline to get Kentucky to the MSU 20-yard line. After three incomplete passes, the Wildcats faced fourth-and-10 with less than a minute remaining.
The play called for Hartline to throw a post route to Matthews in the end zone, but Matthews misinterpreted the call and broke his route off, allowing Johnthan Banks an easy interception at the MSU 1-yard line that iced the game.
Afterward, both Hartline and Coach Joker Phillips acknowledged that Matthews blew the call. That was just part of what was a disastrous night for the 6-foot-6 senior receiver. He spent the first quarter on the sideline for an unspecified violation of team rules. Matthews didn't elaborate on what got him suspended.
"It's just something that happened," Matthews said. "But even if you do have to sit out, you have to go out there and play your hardest, and that's what I did."
Things didn't get much better for Matthews once he entered the game, though. In the second quarter, he was outfought for a jump ball in the end zone by Mississippi State defensive back Devin Jones that resulted in the second of Hartline's three interceptions.
But judging by the atmosphere after Kentucky's practice on Tuesday, all is forgiven, as Matthews seemed loose and relaxed and was clowning around with teammates.
"Look at him," Phillips said. "Does he look like a guy who's down?"
"It's just a learning experience," junior receiver Randall Cobb said. "It's not something he tried to do. It's just something that happens. We're going to be behind him no matter what, because he's been behind us all season."
Matthews admitted, though, that it was a tough plane ride home.
"Any time you lose, you feel bad," Matthews said. "Sometimes you can help the team win, sometimes you can't. I really felt like I could have helped the team win if I had gotten the communication down. But it didn't happen. It was just miscommunication. That's all it was. But we're moving on from that. It's a new week, a new game."
If anybody can relate to having fingers pointed at him, it's Hartline, which is why it's easier for the quarterback to move past the gaffe.
"I've had a lot of rough games," Hartline said. "It feels miserable. You never want to be that guy. You never want to be in that position. When you get looked at that way, it feels bad. In the end, though, you've just got to shake it off. It's all about adversity, how you keep your poise and play with confidence.
"I was the first one to go over there and kick him in the butt (after the interception) yet hug him at the same time. We need him. He's a big-time threat, and we'll get him squared away. He'll be all right. You just got to make sure he knows you're there for him and he's out there practicing hard, and today he was."
Matthews' rough night shouldn't put a damper on what has been a breakout season for the transfer from Los Angeles' Harbor College. He's tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions (seven) with South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery, ranks fifth in receptions per game (4.7) and sixth in receiving yards per game (69.2).
Phillips doesn't seem worried about the Mississippi State game having a negative effect on Matthews during the season's final three games.
"Chris has had some ups and downs, and every week he's battled back," Phillips said. "He's had some bad games and good games, and he's bounced back from the bad ones. He'll be fine."
Senior running back Derrick Locke took part in some non-contact drills during Tuesday's practice, but Phillips said fatigue started to set in during the latter stages.
"Early in the practice he feels like he can grip the ball well, but later in the practice he doesn't have the same type of grip," Phillips said.
Locke has missed almost three games with a shoulder injury.