UK Football

Blue Review: Instant analysis from Kentucky’s football loss to Southern Mississippi

Mark Stoops apologizes for loss

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops says fans deserve better after 44-35 loss to Southern Miss in season opener after leading 35-10.
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Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops says fans deserve better after 44-35 loss to Southern Miss in season opener after leading 35-10.

Instant analysis from Kentucky’s 44-35 loss to Southern Mississippi

How the game was won

Dominating with a punishing ground attack, Southern Mississippi erased a 35-10 deficit with 34 straight points and hung a crushing defeat on Kentucky and Mark Stoops.

Getting game balls

1. Shannon Dawson. The same guy who was fired as Kentucky offensive coordinator after 2015 came back to Commonwealth Stadium and hung 44 on the Cats.

2. Ito Smith. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Southern Mississippi running back (36 carries, 173 yards) repeatedly broke tackles and allowed the USM rushing attack to control the game.

3. The Southern Mississippi offensive line. Spent the second half repeatedly opening gaping holes in the suspect Kentucky defensive front.

4. Nick Mullens. After throwing three picks in the first half, the veteran USM quarterback went 10-of-14 passing in the decisive second half and made the move-the-chains plays that had to be made.

5. Lamar Thomas. The new Kentucky wide receivers coach can hang his hat on this: There were no drops from a UK wideout unit that had the dropsies all last season.

Running gassers

1. Mark Stoops. Said all summer the Kentucky coach’s worst nightmare was Shannon Dawson returning to Lexington and hanging 40-plus on UK in a Southern Mississippi win.

Well, welcome to Mark Stoops’ worst nightmare.

2. The Kentucky defense. SEC programs in the fourth year of a coaching regime should not be totally dominated along the line of scrimmage by even a good Conference USA team.

3. The Kentucky offense. After scoring 35 points in an encouraging first half, went completely AWOL in the second half when USM had seized the momentum.

4. The Kentucky special teams. Had a punt blocked, muffed a field-goal try and had no punt return yardage (but kickoff returns were pretty good).

Key number(s)

524. Shannon Dawson’s offense amassed 520 yards of offense, 262 on the ground.

Fashion police

For its 2016 season opener, Kentucky debuted a blue matte helmet and wore blue jerseys and white pants.

Who is next

Kentucky will travel to Gainesville on Saturday seeking to earn its first win over Florida since 1986 in a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on CBS. The Gators (1-0) opened their season with a 24-7 victory over Massachusetts in The Swamp.

Know your foe

1. In Florida’s 29-game winning streak over UK, the Cats have played the Gators within single-digits only eight times. However, two of those have come the past two seasons. Last season, Kentucky lost to Florida 14-9 in Commonwealth Stadium. Two years ago, the Cats fell 36-30 in triple overtime in The Swamp.

2. Will Grier, who quarterbacked Florida to victory in Lexington last season, has transferred to West Virginia. Luke Del Rio, who began his career as an Alabama walk-on and also played a season at Oregon State, won the UF starting QB position in the preseason.

3. Florida head coach Jim McElwain was an assistant at Louisville under John L. Smith from 2000-02.

Next game

Kentucky at Florida

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Gainesville, Fla.

TV: CBS-27

Last meeting: Florida won 14-9 on Sept. 19, 2015, in Lexington.

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