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Date published: Sunday, October 31, 2004

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Yesterday's Kentucky-Mississippi State game was about as poorly played a contest as you would have expected out of two bottom-rung Southeastern Conference programs.

Mississippi State was coming off a landmark win over Florida, but Sylvester Croom's club didn't have quite the same pep in its step that it did last week.When you consider that UK looked like the same nondescript bunch it has for the last six weeks, the Bulldogs didn't really need to be at Florida-level.

MSU running backs Jerious Norwood and Fred Reid combined for 274 yards as the Bulldogs recovered from a sloppy first three quarters of play to pull away for a 22-7 win over Kentucky yesterday, marking the sixth consecutive loss for Coach Rich Brooks' club.

State, on the other hand, picked up consecutive SEC wins for the first time in four years, despite what Croom felt was an obvious letdown from last week.

"I expected it," Croom said. "I was trying to be optimistic and say we wouldn't (have a letdown). We were only 66 percent good today. We got two-thirds ready to play, but not on offense."

The way Kentucky's going, "66 percent good" probably sounds excellent to Brooks. The game looked like a microcosm of UK's season to date: very little production on offense, poor tackling and not enough run support on defense.

"This was a very frustrating game," Brooks said. "The first three quarters we continued to make mistakes and hurt ourselves with penalties. We struggled to play with consistency all game long."

It took just three plays for UK to dig itself a hole. Quinton Culbertson intercepted a Shane Boyd screen pass intended for Gerad Parker and took it back 35 yards for a score to give State a 7-0 lead 62 seconds into the game.

"(Culbertson) just jumped on the route and it was `pick six,' " Boyd said. "It was a bad play on my part."

The rest of the first half for UK included a fake punt run that was stuffed for no gain, an illegal chop block that resulted in a 15-yard penalty and a bad shotgun snap that sailed over Boyd's head for an 18-yard loss.

Mississippi State came into the game 11th in the SEC in scoring defense and eighth in total defense, but the Kentucky offensive line failed to open holes in the running game or provide enough protection for Boyd or Andre Woodson in the passing game.

State really wasn't tearing it up, either, one reason UK was able to hang around.

MSU quarterback Omarr Conner threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, and the Bulldogs were stopped on a fake attempt of their own.

State's lead was just 10-0 at intermission. After Boyd finally got Kentucky into the end zone on a 6-yard run with 7:14 left, the Cats trailed 13-7.

"No offense to Kentucky, but we had chances to put this game away early in the first half," Croom said.

UK's defense had been stout the first three quarters and had Mississippi State backed up at its own 10-yard line following Boyd's score. But the Bulldogs killed 3:37 from the clock and drove to the Kentucky 35-yard line before pinning the Cats back at their own 2.

Boyd was then sacked in the end zone for a safety by Titus Brown. After a failed onside kick, Reid broke a 32-yard touchdown run with 3:17 remaining for the final score.

Norwood finished with 165 yards on 24 carries, while Reid added 109 yards on 11 carries. Both backs were able to pick up big chunks of yardage by cutting outside and breaking through UK arm tackles.

"They hurt us with the cutback runs," Brooks said. "We missed tackles on defense and their guys did a good job of making us miss."

UK's offensive and defensive units almost never seem to be clicking simultaneously. When the defense held early, the offense couldn't get anything going, and when the offense finally got on the board, the defense couldn't get them the ball back in good field position.

"I have no idea why it's like that," said cornerback Earven Flowers. "It's starting to become a trend, and we've got to break it."