Date story was published: Sunday, October 31, 1993
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- On an unusually cold and blustery Mississippi afternoon, on hostile soil against the same outfit that had practically ruined its season a year ago, Kentucky football yesterday reached a pair of places it had not been in quite a while.
"We felt like this was a big hump we had to get over," said tailback Randy Wyatt. "We've got more humps to get over, but we felt like this was the hump we needed to get over to move on."
This was five victories for the first time in the Bill Curry Era, the most since 1989. This was two road victories in the same season for the first time since 1984.
This was Kentucky 26, Mississippi State 17.
True, on Halloween eve, this was a bit more scary than it needed to be. Up 26-3 with 5:33 left in the third quarter, Kentucky watched as State quarterback Derrick Taite replaced starter Todd Jordan and suddenly energized the lagging Bulldogs, throwing 38 yards to Kenny Causey for one touchdown, then scooting 15 yards on a draw for another, bringing the home team within nine points with 9:46 remaining.
"We got too big a lead for our maturity level," Curry said afterward.
Yet in the end the Cats cleared the hurdle. With 6:42 remaining, State took over on its own 15 and, converting three fourth downs and losing Taite to injury after a Zane Beehn sack along the way, moved to the UK 34 with 2:30 left, facing fourth-and-3. But backup cornerback Kiyo Wilson broke up a Jordan pass to seal the win.
"It shouldn't have been that close," linebacker Marty Moore said.
Yes, but then the Cats figured they shouldn't have lost to Mississippi State last year, but they did, blowing a late lead to lose a 37-36 heartbreaker most pointed to as the killer defeat of 1992. The Cats last won five football games in a season in Jerry Claiborne's farewell 6-5 year of '89. The Cats hadn't won two road games in a season since 1984, when Claiborne's Hall of Fame Bowl team was a perfect 4-0 away from home.
That was UK's last bowl trip. But now 5-3, with Vanderbilt (2-5) and East Carolina (2-6) up next, the Cats appear to be perfect pickings for either the Peach Bowl (Dec. 31 in Atlanta), which has fourth choice of an SEC team, or the CarQuest Bowl (Jan. 1 in Ft. Lauderdale), which gets fifth dibs.
"That's what we want to do, go to a bowl," said tailback Moe Williams, who despite a sore knee rushed for 80 yards on 16 carries. "That's been our whole objective."
An objective the Cats proved dead serious about from the start. "They went out and played hard from the first play to the last play," said State linebacker Juan Long.
Forget the icy weather -- "allegedly 40 degrees" read the State play-by- play sheet. On the opening kickoff, UK hit man Melvin Johnson laid a lick on State return man Kevin Bouie. The ball popped loose and Wyatt fell on it at the 27-yard line. Four plays later, just 90 seconds into the game, quarterback Pookie Jones hit tight end Terry Samuels for 2-yard touchdown pass.
Four minutes later, it was 9-0. A 36-yard Dan Ariza punt pinned the Bulldogs to their own 2. Two snaps later, Beehn hit State fullback Michael Davis in the middle of the line, the ball flew out and backward, rolling out of the rear of the end zone for a safety.
"When we came out and knocked the hell out of them on the kickoff, and then got the safety," said Moore, "you could just tell (State) thought it was going to be a long day."
It was certainly a long half. A 71-yard, nine-play drive ended with a Jones 2-yard score for a 16-3 lead. Next possession, Jones hit Alfonzo Browning with a 39-yard scoring strike for a 23-3 Kentucky lead.
Even after Williams fumbled on the first play of the second half, even when Jones went out because of back problems, Kentucky got the ball back and, with Antonio O'Ferral at quarterback, marched 90 yards in 15 plays for a 19-yard Juha Leonoff field goal and a 26-3 advantage.
"I think when it got to be 26-3 there they kind of came out dead," said Moore. "I think we kind of played down to their level."
Taite, an athletic redshirt freshman from Moss Point, Miss., brought the Bulldogs back to life, engineering two consecutive scoring drives. Scary?
"A little," said Jones, who returned after three series (one by O'Ferral, who left with a strained Achilles' tendon; two by third-stringer Jeff Speedy). "I caught myself thinking about them maybe winning it with a field goal. But I knew if we got the ball back, we would shut the door."
"It was kind of like, OK we've got this one won, let's get on to the next one," said Williams.
The next one is Vanderbilt, a team that has embarrassed the Cats each of the past two seasons -- 41:51 time of possession in a 17-7 win in '91; a 20-7 win amidst the Commonwealth Stadium booing last year. But those are places UK football has already visited, thank you.
"Just about everything this team is doing this year is some kind of milestone," said Curry. "What'd we say, it's the first time for two road wins since 1984? OK, then we'll go for three."