UK Football

No miracle for Middle

On a night when Kentucky missed four field goals, couldn't run the ball, and nearly lost the game on a last-second Hail Mary, there were two constants: sophomore quarterback Mike Hartline and senior receiver Dicky Lyons Jr.

Hartline, who was booed last week by the Commonwealth Stadium crowd, played his best game as a Wildcat, going 28-for-47 for 254 yards and two touchdowns. He also led UK on what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown drive, throwing a 6-yarder to Derrick Locke to put the Cats up 17-14 with 12:20 remaining.

And in a game that saw the Kentucky receivers once again struggle with dropped balls and running the correct routes, Lyons was Hartline's go-to guy, delivering a career-high 12 catches for 79 yards.

The Cats (3-0) would need every one of Hartline's completions and Lyons' catches. Cornerback Robbie McAtee tackled MTSU receiver Eldred King just short of the end zone on a Hail Mary pass on the game's final play to preserve a heart-stopping 20-14 win in front of a stunned crowd of 68,612.

"We didn't do as well as we needed to do," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "But the very, very, very, very good news is that it's a win."

The Blue Raiders went ahead 14-10 midway through the third quarter on a 22-yard TD pass from Joe Craddock to Malcolm Beyah.

The UK offense had been bogged down all night by poor execution from the receivers, a nonexistent running game and a poor field-goal performance from Lones Seiber, who finished 2-for-6. But Hartline led the Cats on an eight-play, 57-yard scoring drive that started late in the third quarter. The 6-foot-6, 201-pounder was 6-for-7 on the go-ahead drive and was helped out by a miraculous one-handed, 12-yard grab by Lyons to the MTSU 6. Hartline then found Locke on the right side for six.

"That was a huge drive," Brooks said. "When things were looking down, Hartline stepped up, took us down the field and put us in the end zone."

Hartline was forced to play the entire game after freshman Randall Cobb left early in the first quarter with an ankle injury.

"That was a huge drive," Brooks said. "When things were looking down, Hartline stepped up, took us down the field and put us in the end zone."

Hartline was money on slant passes all night, and the only big mistake he made was in the third quarter when the ball slipped out of his hands.

"Mike's definitely growing up," UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips said. "He's growing up right before our eyes. He's throwing it in the right places and making the right checks. He's giving us a chance to win."

The offense got off to a slow start for the third straight game, and MTSU drew first blood when Craddock threw a third-and-10 pass to Desmond Gee in the left flat. Gee then beat Braxton Kelley to the corner and raced 62 yards down the sideline for a score at the 9:21 mark.

The UK defense came up with a big play that helped get the offense jump-started. MTSU receiver Sancho McDonald fumbled an end-around handoff from Craddock, and after a mad scramble, McAtee fell on the ball at the Blue Raiders' 11-yard line.

That set up Hartline's first career touchdown pass, as Hartline play-faked from the 1-yard line and hit a wide- open Maurice Grinter in the back of the end zone.

That seemed to loosen up Hartline. The sophomore completed two big pass plays to T.C. Drake and had two potential TD passes taken away by receiver blunders. First, Kyrus Lanxter dropped a fade pass in the corner of the end zone. Then, Hartline avoided pressure, improvised and dropped a 21-yard teardrop to E.J. Adams, but the TD pass was called back because Adams ran out of bounds before coming back into the play.

The Cats had to settle for a 40-yard Seiber field goal that gave them a 10-7 lead with 4:11 left in the second period.

Brooks said his primary goal during UK's upcoming open date is to get the receivers straightened out and narrow the rotation to give Hartline the proper help he needs.

"There were a lot of good things Hartline was doing, and then all of a sudden the receiver wouldn't complete a route or wouldn't run the right route," Brooks said. "Right now our quarterback goes back there, and he's not sure of what he's going to get on those routes. It was very disturbing. I thought he did a good job of throwing the ball, making some really nice plays and stepping up in the pocket."