Date published: Sunday, October 26, 2003
You could feel the fork just about ready to penetrate the 2003 Kentucky football season.
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UK had been suffering from painfully slow starts all season, but this clearly was the worst. The scoreboard read, Mississippi State 17, Kentucky 0, in the waning minutes of the first half, and mind you, this was an MSU team that lost to the likes of Tulane and Memphis. Boos rang out from the 57,141 in attendance at Commonwealth Stadium.So just when you thought this group of Wildcats could not get any harder to figure out, they turned in one of the more bizarre twists in recent memory.
Lifeless and in a 17-point hole, Kentucky ripped off the game's final 42 points to coast to a 25-point win over the Bulldogs. In a matter of minutes UK not only managed to save its season, but built some possible momentum for the stretch run as well.
And while they may have driven their coaches and fans crazy along the way, the Cats now sit at 4-4 overall and 1-3 in the Southeastern Conference with Arkansas set to visit Commonwealth next Saturday in what now looms as a huge game for Kentucky's bowl hopes.
"I think our fans were about to write our obits for the season," said UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen. "But I guess we love adversity. We love spotting teams, I guess that's what it is. For some reason, this team responds to adversity."
For awhile, it looked as if UK Coach Rich Brooks would have to start preparing for 2004. Like just about every other game this season, the Wildcats offense came out stuck in neutral, and the usually sound defense didn't have much life either.
Kentucky's first six drives netted just 62 yards, and MSU's Jerious Norwood rushed for 105 yards in the first quarter alone, including a 58-yard touchdown.
"We couldn't do anything in the first half at all," Lorenzen said. "I don't know why."
Kentucky finally woke up just before halftime. Lorenzen, operating mainly out of four-and-five receiver sets, marched the Wildcats on an 11-play, 89-yard drive that resulted in a 7-yard run by Rock Johnson that sent the Cats into the locker room trailing just 17-7.
It was all Cats after that. Lorenzen led a nine-play, 80-yard drive on the opening possession of the second half, and Arliss Beach's 1-yard run brought UK to within 17-14 less than four minutes into the third quarter.
The Kentucky defense then tightened, forcing the Bulldogs to three-and-out. That set up Derek Abney's first punt-return touchdown of 2003, an 80-yarder that saw him ride a block from Earven Flowers the final 10 yards before being helped into the end zone by Andrew Hopewell.
So what exactly did Brooks say at halftime to get his team out of the doldrums?
"(Brooks) just said that if we didn't come out and get after (Mississippi State), he didn't know what we're about," said Abney, who added a 53-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter and finished with 212 all-purpose yards.
The UK defense limited State to 67 yards after intermission while picking off three passes.
"We were asleep in the first quarter," Kentucky defensive coordinator Mike Archer said. "But at the tail end of the second quarter, we began to wake up.
"I told them at halftime that they should be glad we're only down 17-7, but I felt we had the momentum back."
While Brooks might not be able to make sense of it all, he was glad to see his squad respond with the season on the line.
"We're an interesting football team," he said. "We challenged them at halftime and we came out and took control of the football game. It was a heck of a comeback.
"It wasn't very pretty, but this team showed a lot of character in coming back from the deficit and responding, and responding in resounding fashion."