Date story was published: Sunday, October 5, 1986
A little rain didn't prevent Kentucky from parading to a surprising 32-0 Homecoming victory over Southern Mississippi last night.
Favored by 4 1/2 points, Kentucky won by more than 4 1/2 touchdowns at umbrella-filled Commonwealth Stadium.
"Needless to say, we're a happy bunch," UK coach Jerry Claiborne said. "We couldn't have played a whole lot better."
Only one Claiborne team at Kentucky had won by a more lopsided score. In the 1984 opener, UK beat Kent State 42-0, also the last Claiborne-directed shutout.
But Southern Miss was expected to test this Wildcat team. The Golden Eagles had lost close games at Alabama (31-17) and Texas A&M (16-7) and beaten Southeastern Conference co-leader Mississippi State (28-24) earlier this season.
Instead, Southern Miss suffered its worst defeat since losing 42-7 to Alabama in 1980.
"We have no excuses," Southern Miss coach Jim Carmody said. "We got whipped soundly by a very good football team."
How did Kentucky do it? The ways included the obvious - playing solid defense - and the opportunistic - picking up two first downs from punt formation.
The Wildcats, 3-0-1 after finishing with the pre-SEC portion of the schedule, may have circumvented the rules, too. Jeff Nelson's pass from punt formation in UK's deliriously upbeat third quarter may have been caught by an illegal receiver.
Guy Neal, who ran the ball 52 yards, said he lined up as a tackle. If true, Neal wasn't an eligible receiver.
UK may have had other ineligible receivers downfield, too. A convoy of about seven blockers were waiting for Neal once he caught the ball.
Claiborne cautioned that he would have to look at the film to be sure. But, after a little prodding, the UK coach said, "The officials missed it. That was an illegal play."
There was nothing questionable in the play of Ivy Joe Hunter, who became UK's first 100-yard rusher this season with 128 yards, or Joe Worley, who broke UK's place-kicking record.
It all came together in the third quarter when all those elements, plus Southern Miss turnovers, turned a struggle into a rout.
"The third quarter was like Murphy's Law," Carmody said. "What could go wrong did go wrong."
Thanks to three Worley field goals - he later booted a fourth that tied his own school record for three-pointers in a game - UK led 9-0 entering the third quarter.
The bulge was 25-0 before the obligatory fourth period.
Kentucky's waterfall of good fortune began when Hunter ran an off-tackle play 45 yards to the Southern Miss 15.
On the next snap, Mark Higgs ran into the end zone on another off-tackle play.
Nelson's second improvisation propelled the Cats to another score on their next possession.
Four Southern Miss rushers broke through UK's line on the play.
When Nelson had to stretch high to his right to catch Mark Wheeler's snap, he said there was no time to run.
"I had gloves on to help me grip the ball," said Wheeler, a tight end on offense, of the bad snaps. "I thought everything was in order. He (Nelson) made me look a little better."
Nelson rolled to his right, then flipped a 10-yard pass to Neal, who had wandered toward the right sideline.
Neal ran 52 yards to the Southern Miss 25 before he was dragged down from behind.
"I was glad somebody caught me," Neal said with a smile. "I was looking for someone to pitch it to.
"I don't know if it's legal or not. I think we kind of got away with something."
Three plays later, fullback Andy Murray crashed over from 4 yards out and UK led 22-0.
Southern Miss fumbled away the ensuing kickoff. Craig Benzinger recovered for UK at the 25-yard line.
Four plays later, Worley kicked a 21-yard field goal, his fourth of the game to tie his own school record. He also kicked four against Bowling Green in last season's opener.
Worley also broke the school record for scoring by a place-kicker by accounting for all the first-half points.
Worley booted three field goals to stake UK to a 9-0 lead. The field goals, which came from 45, 19 and 39 yards, were part of a 14-point night that increased the junior's career point total to 144. John Pierce, who kicked for Kentucky from 1974 through 1976, had the previous record of 130.
Worley also kicked two extra points to run his consecutive streak to 42, breaking Tom Griggs' school record of 41.
"I kind of figured I'd get the records sooner or later," Worley said. "I had accepted the fact I'd get them."
Worley, who had made four of five attempts this season going into last night's game, capped Kentucky's second possession with a 45-yard field goal. The kick had to battle a stiff breeze and seemed to almost stop in midair before crossing the goal posts.
The field goal came with 8:13 remaining in the first quarter and capped a 52-yard drive.
UK quarterback Bill Ransdell completed five straight passes for 49 yards in the march. The fifth pass was a sideline flip to Eric Pitts that enabled Ransdell to tie Randy Jenkins' school record of 363 career completions.
Ransdell went on to break the school records for completions (he now has 370) and attempts (642). Ransdell's 96 passing yards left him 23 short of Rick Norton's record.
The big play came early when Marc Logan raced 17 yards to the UK 34 on a third-and-13 draw play.
UK drove 75 yards on 16 plays and ate up seven minutes and 39 seconds with its next possession.
The only problem was the Wildcats couldn't get the ball into the end zone.
Early in the drive, Ransdell hit Hunter with an 8-yard pass to break Jenkins' completion mark.
Another pass - a 10-yard toss to Greg Baker released in the face of a blitz - gave UK a first down at Southern Miss 13.
Two 5-yard runs by Logan gave UK a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
UK could not get in the end zone despite three more Logan runs.
Logan tried the left side, then the right side. The two carries gained a total of two yards.
On third down, UK went to the full-house backfield known as the "Dead T," used during the dying days of former coach Fran Curci's regime. Logan was dropped at the 3 on a sweep to the right.
Worley came on and kicked what amounted to a glorified extra point. The 19-yard field goal put Kentucky ahead 6-0 with 13:05 remaining in the second quarter.
Worley added a third field goal late in the half after Kentucky's defense blunted Southern Miss's only offensive thrust.
Southern Miss got all four of its first downs before intermission on the drive. Its first came with 6:10 left in the second quarter.
Quarterback Andrew Anderson abandoned Southern Miss's run-oriented attack and turned passer.
"The option pitch is our bread and butter," Carmody said. "Kentucky didn't do anything we didn't expect. We just didn't block."
Anderson completed four straight passes, accounting for 47 yards.
But when the Golden Eagles reached the UK 29-yard line, Anderson threw a second-down pass right to UK defensive end Carwell Gardner.
Nelson's first fake punt allowed Kentucky to make the most out of the time remaining (2:05).
Nelson, a Florence native, took off on a fourth-and-1 play from his own 42.
With quarterback coach Jerry Eisaman yelling encouragement from the press box - "Get the first down, Slick," the de facto offensive coordinator shouted - Nelson gained 10 yards to the Southern Miss 48.
A Ransdell run and a roughing penalty on the tackle out of bounds gave UK another 22 yards.
Time prevented a possible touchdown.
UK had used two timeouts in the first quarter and called its final timeout with 15 seconds remaining.
Worley came on and kicked a 39-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining to set the halftime score.
The third quarter made UK's victory obvious.
Any doubts were eased when the fourth quarter began with another Southern Miss turnover. Backup safety Raynard Gover intercepted a badly overthrown pass. A personal foul was tacked on his run-back, giving UK possession at the Southern Miss 14.
Two plays later, Ransdell hit former quarterback Tim Jones on a 13-yard touchdown pass.
Kentucky preserved its shutout by stopping Southern Miss four times from the 7-yard line with six minutes remaining.
After two running plays, Southern Miss was still at the 7.
Cornerback Tony Mayes broke up a third-down pass.
On fourth down, Gardner blitzed and threw down the quarterback as the ball was being released. The incompletion preserved UK's 32-0 lead.