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FIERY SPEECH GIVES UK PUNCH

Date story was published: Sunday, November 03, 2002

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Guy Morriss stood in the interview room following yesterday's 45-24 win over Mississippi State with his right hand throbbing, but you couldn't detect an ounce of pain on his face.

After watching his team implode in the second half against Georgia last week and thinking back to blown opportunities in a 16-12 loss to South Carolina three weeks ago, the normally reserved Morriss decided he had seen enough.

With the Cats trailing 17-16 to the Bulldogs at intermission, Morriss went into the locker room and freaked out.

First, he took a folding chair and slammed it against a blackboard. Then he took his fist and smashed it against a wooden locker, breaking his right hand in the process.

Morriss's uncharacteristic tirade certainly made an impression on the Wildcats, who outscored MSU 29-7 in the second half after letting a 10-0 first-quarter lead evaporate.

"That was the first time I had ever seen Coach Morriss like that," said senior punter Glenn Pakulak. "We knew he meant business."

"I thought we were kind of due for a kick in the butt," junior receiver Derek Abney said. "We had been in this situation before, and other things hadn't worked. He's always been kind of a discipline guy, but he usually wants us to be men and take care of it ourselves. But today he decided to give us a kick-start, and we probably needed it."

While Morriss broke his hand, it was Abney who would break Mississippi State's backs.

His 69-yard punt return touchdown 2 1/2 minutes into the third quarter reclaimed the lead for UK at 23-17. After a 1-yard TD run by Artose Pinner, Abney ran back another punt for a score, this time from 52 yards out, giving the Cats a 20-point cushion (37-17) with 7:15 left in the period.

Abney now has a school-record and SEC-record four punt returns for TDs this season. He now has five for his career, setting a school record and tying a conference record.

"What he does for this football team is unbelievable," Morriss said. "Every time the ball touches his hands, he can make something happen."

Abney's returns also took pressure off the UK defense, which was victimized for 230 yards rushing by the Bulldogs offense. Most of that came on toss sweeps.

But defensive coordinator John Goodner's unit came out and forced the Bulldogs to go three-and-out on its first three possessions of the second half. Goodner pointed to Abney's returns and Pakulak's punting (49.9-yard average on seven punts) as keys.

"Those guys mean everything to our defense," Goodner said. "Everything. For my money, Pakulak, Abney and (special teams coach Mark) Nelson are the most valuable guys we've got."

Kentucky's victory marked the first back-to-back SEC road wins for the program since 1984 and guaranteed the school its first non-losing season since 1999.

The Cats now sit at 6-3 overall, 2-3 in SEC play.

Morriss's fiery halftime speech carried over to the post-game news conference, when he presented UK president Lee Todd with a game ball and stuck out his tongue at those who scoffed at the school's unsuccessful appeal of its NCAA-imposed bowl ban. The Cats now have the six victories required for post-season play.

As for the broken hand, Morriss said it's no sweat.

"It's been broken before," Morriss said. "It got their attention, and it got the results I was looking for, so I'll take it."

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