Date story was published: Sunday, November 5, 2000
The talk around town was that the vaunted Mississippi State defense was coming into Commonwealth Stadium a little vulnerable after surrendering 80 points and 993 yards in its previous two games.
Would that defense be vulnerable against a Kentucky offense coming off its best performance of the season? The Wildcats could only wish they had been so lucky.
Instead, the State defense that showed up yesterday looked like the same hard-hitting, big-play unit that has made coordinator Joe Lee Dunn a household name in the college football world.
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The Bulldogs forced seven UK turnovers (including four interceptions of quarterback Jared Lorenzen), scored two defensive touchdowns and pretty much clogged up the UK attack yesterday en route to a 35-17 win before 62,159 fans.
"We came in here to make a statement as a defense, and we did that," said senior cornerback Fred Smoot, who had one of the Bulldogs' four interceptions.
All four of Lorenzen's interceptions came in the first half, and the first two set up Mississippi State's first two touchdowns.
On UK's first possession, Lorenzen lofted one up for grabs under heavy pressure in the area of Derek Smith near the left sideline. But Eugene Clinton was there for the easy pick, and nothing but green stood in the way of the senior safety as he ran it back 81 yards for a 7-0 Bulldogs lead.
It was by far the worst day of Lorenzen's young career. He completed just 23 of his 53 pass attempts for 264 yards.
State seemingly came with a blitz on just about every down, and Lorenzen said the pressure got to him.
"My nerves were pretty shot," he said. "Playing Mississippi State, you know they're going to bring a lot of people, and I tried not to let it get into my head, but I guess it was a little bit. Every time I threw a ball it seemed like it was getting picked off."
Mississippi State Coach Jackie Sherrill, whose team became bowl-eligible with the win, said the game plan called for his defense to swarm after the big redshirt freshman and force him into mistakes.
"He's a great quarterback if you don't put pressure on him," Sherrill said of Lorenzen. "But if you do put pressure on him, he's either going to throw it away or throw it to you. He's not going to take a sack."
UK Coach Hal Mumme said he isn't worried about any long-term effects yesterday's performance might have on Lorenzen.
"I'll talk to Jared," Mumme said. "This is not cancer; this is football. We'll get over this. Joe Lee does a great job of forcing quarterbacks to throw interceptions and make mistakes, and I'll use that to help Jared put this in perspective.
"You're not going to see a better pressure defense than what Joe Lee puts together."
Most of the MSU offense revolved around tailbacks Dicenzo Miller (19 carries, 117 yards) and Dontae Walker (15 carries, 102 yards), both of whom eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the same game for the third time this season.
"We just ran hard and wore their defense out," Walker said.
Miller's 11-yard run following an incredible one-handed interception by Smoot gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 cushion.
Lorenzen's only touchdown pass, a 13-yarder to Quentin McCord, tightened the deficit to 14-6 at halftime, but MSU answered early in the third quarter on a 44-yard scoring pass from Wayne Madkin to Larry Huntington.
The Bulldogs (6-2, 3-2 SEC) had several chances to finish off UK but instead let the Cats hang around. With his team nursing a 21-9 lead, MSU's Walker fumbled at the goal line late in the third quarter. Scott Westerfield missed a 30-yard field goal on the first play of the final period.
So with the offense unable to deliver the knockout blow, State went back to its trademark defense to get the job done.
The Cats (2-7, 0-6) were trying to claw into MSU's 21-9 lead early in the fourth quarter when safety Josh Morgan blitzed and jarred the ball loose from Lorenzen. Ivan Billie scooped it up and ran in 25 yards to give the Bulldogs a 19-point cushion. The teams exchanged meaningless fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Kentucky was coming off a 620-yard performance against the SEC's top defense (Georgia) two weeks ago. But Mumme had a bad vibe about how the day was going to go when Lorenzen overthrew a wide-open Ernest Simms in the end zone on UK's second play from scrimmage.
"That was the typifying play of the day," Mumme said. "A lot of times with this offense, you're going to have guys open and you're going to throw it in there and look like a million dollars. And then you'll have days when you're not too sharp and not throwing too good. It's like a good fastball pitcher not hitting the plate. It's not good. It looks real ugly then."