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Cats' Turnovers, Listless Play Threaten Sec East Chances

Somebody forgot to tell the Kentucky football team that its open date wasn't until next Saturday.

The Wildcats came out and played like a team with a bye yesterday against Mississippi State, and the result was a stunning 31-14 loss in front of a Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 68,173 that was nearly as lifeless as UK for four quarters.And while Rich Brooks' club will get a much-needed bye this week, it can probably wave bye-bye to its Top 25 ranking and any outside hopes of winning the Southeastern Conference East.

UK (6-3, 2-3) came into the game fresh off a pair of down-to-the-wire barnburners against Louisiana State and Florida, and the Cats didn't have any pep in their step all afternoon.

"Obviously, when a game goes that poorly, you have to look at me first," Brooks said. "I obviously did not get the message to my team about how difficult this game would be. Everybody has been asking how we were going to respond after two emotional, physical games, and I thought we'd respond well, but I didn't convince my team.

"It was almost like they tried to take the week off before they had the week off."

Brooks called the performance "a total systems failure," and indeed, the Cats stunk it up across the board.

When the offense wasn't giving away the ball to the Bulldogs, the line couldn't protect long enough for quarterback Andre Woodson to get anything going in the passing game.

The defense looked lost and confused at the outset, allowing Mississippi State to put together a pair of long drives and seize control in the first half.

And the special teams were once again brutal. The Wildcats fumbled the second-half kickoff to set up an MSU field goal, and a botched punt on its next series led to a Bulldogs touchdown. Place-kicker Lones Seiber also missed a 34-yard field goal.

"We just didn't have the heart and desire we needed to have to win this game," said sophomore defensive end Jeremy Jarmon.

"We just got into a slump and it had a snowball effect, and it's hard to get out of it," junior receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. said. "We choked. That's all you can say."

The game could be pretty well summed up on the first possession. The Bulldogs won the coin toss, but instead of deferring as he usually does, MSU Coach Sylvester Croom decided to take the ball.

State then methodically plowed its way on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes of clock and resulted in an 11-yard TD pass from Wesley Carroll to Jason Husband.

"I thought we had to set the tone of the game with our offense," Croom said. "From an offensive standpoint, that drive was absolutely critical and was a big, big part of the ball game because it gave our guys confidence. I also think it was a little bit of a warning shot for them that we were able to take the ball and move it down the field like that."

Brooks spent several minutes chewing out the defense after that drive, and Kentucky did tie the game at 7 on Woodson's 18-yard TD pass to Steve Johnson on the next series.

But State came right back with another 80-yard march, with this one going 17 plays and taking 6:41 as Carroll play-faked and hit a wide-open Anthony Dixon in the end zone to make it 14-7 early in the second quarter.

UK had a chance to go on a game-tying drive to start the second half, but Alfonso Smith fumbled the kickoff at the 32. The defense managed to hold MSU to a field goal, but the special teams put the Cats in a bigger hole.

Kentucky was lined up to punt, but the snap was high, forcing punter Tim Masthay to try to avoid the rush. Masthay fumbled at the 26, and Dixon scored on a 1-yard run five plays later to make it 24-7 Bulldogs with 8:16 left in the third.

Johnson would haul in a 37-yard TD on fourth-and-8 to bring UK to within 24-14 with 5:15 left in the third period, but that was the last positive series of the game for the Wildcats.

Kentucky's last seven possessions went as follows: a punt following a three-and-out, an interception at their 27; a turnover on downs after Woodson and running back Moncell Allen miscommunicated on an exchange and fumbled; a Jacob Tamme fumble at the UK 39; a Woodson interception at the Bulldogs 4; a turnover on downs at the Mississippi State 4; and another Woodson interception at the MSU 6-yard line.

By that time, the Bulldogs had a 31-14 lead, and a good chunk of the fans had already headed for the parking lot.

The Wildcats turned it over six times, the most since a 56-21 loss to Tennessee in 1999.

"We knew the significance of this game," Tamme said. "But we just made way too many mistakes."

Date story ran: Sunday, October 28, 2007