UK offense was at its worst, then its best

October 27, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

LEXINGTON - Just when it seemed things couldn't get much worse for the Kentucky offense, the Kentucky offense got much, much better.

The Wildcats were getting nowhere against the worst defense in the Southeastern Conference. But a change of plans here and a challenge there changed everything, resulting in the kind of reversal of fortune Kentucky fans rarely see.

Kentucky scored 42 unanswered points Saturday - 35 of them in the second half - to turn a potentially putrid offensive performance into the kind of game the players won't soon forget.

"I've never seen anything like that," quarterback Jared Lorenzen said. "This is so much fun for us as players to get out here and finally click, finally do everything right as a team."


The Wildcats' biggest comeback since 1998 gave coach Rich Brooks his first SEC victory, rallying to defeat Mississippi State 42-17 and preserve their postseason hopes.

"You can see the bowl game again," Lorenzen said. "It was starting to fade out a little bit."

"We turned the ball over, we had fumbles," Brooks said. "It wasn't very pretty. It was frustrating. And then we responded with some of our best football of the year."

Kentucky moved the ball almost at will in the second half, rolling up 269 yards to clear 400 for the first time this season.

Naturally, the Wildcats would have preferred to have been at their best right from the start, but this marked the third straight game in which their offense has sputtered in the early going.

"We love adversity, I guess," Lorenzen said. "I don't know what it is for us, but thank God we turned it around."

Brooks had another way of looking at it.

"We're an interesting football team," Brooks said.

Kentucky fans were losing interest in a hurry as the Wildcats fell further and further behind. They were trying to establish the run behind a banged-up offensive line, and they weren't getting sufficient pass protection when they needed to throw.

They gained just 48 yards in the first period against a defense allowing 485 per game, and a turnover on the first play of the second period led to a score that gave Mississippi State a 17-0 lead.

"For a long time, it didn't look like we were playing against the last defense in the conference, because they were handing us our lunch," Brooks said.

Wildcats often lined up in four receiver sets

Something had to change, and it did late in the first half when the Wildcats opened up their offense. Lorenzen threw six straight passes at the start of the 89-yard drive that produced Kentucky's first score, and the Wildcats often lined up in four-wide receiver sets.

"We knew we were really struggling to run," Brooks said. "Nothing was in sync, and we decided to throw it a little bit and get them loosened up."

Lorenzen completed five of seven passes on the drive, including throws of 35 yards to Chris Bernard and 20 yards to Shane Boyd, and Kentucky got on the board with 38 seconds left in the half.

"(That) was a key drive, a very big drive," Brooks said.

It was followed by a very big challenge at halftime.

"I just told them they were ready to put their team and their season in the dumper if they didn't accept the challenge," Brooks said. "They took the challenge at halftime. The protection was better, and we got the running game going."

All of a sudden, the Wildcats could do no wrong. They scored twice in the first six minutes of the third quarter, seizing the lead on Derek Abney's 80-yard punt return for a touchdown.

And they never looked back.

The Wildcats finished with 410 yards, 362 of them in the final three periods, and they had a season-high 256 passing yards.

The defense did its job as well. Kentucky had allowed 205 yards in the first half, but Mississippi State finished with just 305 and had only 12 first downs, a season-low for a UK opponent.

Defensive end Jeremy Caudill said the UK defenders answered their halftime challenge just as their teammates on offense did.

"We came back out and made the changes we needed to make," Caudill said.

Now it's simply a matter of trying to make sure the Wildcats don't fall into the kind of holes they've been climbing out of.

"We've got to go in this week and figure out why we're starting so slow," Caudill said.

Brooks said he may have the answer.

"I guess what I need to do," he said, "is talk to them before the game like I talk to them at halftime."

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