Bulldogs end chance for UK comeback with pick, edge Cats 24-17



STARKVILLE, Miss. — It was a different venue, yet the same story for the UK football team.

UK head coach Joker Phillips characterized his team’s four turnovers as “careless,” which in addition to another early deficit for the Cats (4-5, 1-5 Southeastern Conference), proved too much to overcome for UK on the road in Davis Wade Stadium against the 23rd-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2 SEC).

The Cats had a chance to tie the game in the final minute of the game, but senior quarterback Mike Hartline threw his third interception of the night to sophomore cornerback Johnathan Banks at the MSU 1-yard line. The pass was intended for senior wide receiver Chris Matthews, who Phillips said made a mistake on the route because of miscommunication over one word on the play call. The Bulldogs then took a knee to finalize their 24-17 victory.

The slow start and turnovers had UK players and coaches searching for answers after the game.

“It’s becoming a recurring theme for this team year-in and year-out, and we have to grow up from that,” senior defensive end Ricky Lumpkin said. “We have to step it up, do whatever it takes and stop it, be grown men and stop playing like little boys in the first half or shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Added Lumpkin: “It’s getting old, being a senior seeing this five years in a row, where against good SEC teams, we play with them, but we always have to fight back and are not taking charge and leading the whole game.”

The Cats’ defense was a major point of concern entering the game versus the Bulldogs, as it has been all season long, and MSU leaped to a 10-0 advantage, thanks to a 54-yard touchdown run and a 33-yard field goal, with 5:37 remaining in the first quarter.

However, the UK defense settled down, stopping the Bulldogs on their final two possessions before halftime. The Cats went into the locker room within striking distance at halftime after sophomore kicker Craig McIntosh booted a 43-yard field goal to make it a one-possession game at 17-10.

The UK defense shut out the Bulldogs on five of their six second-half possessions, but the potent UK offense, the second-highest scoring offense in the SEC entering the game, stalled for much of the second half, save for a long and methodical 12-play, 81-yard touchdown drive.

Conversely, MSU junior running back Vick Pollard and junior quarterback Chris Relf, the two main cogs in the Bulldogs’ spread offense, combined for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Relf’s five-yard touchdown run on the Bulldogs’ lone scoring drive in the second half broke the 17-all tie 4:32 into the fourth quarter and proved to be the deciding margin.

“That’s them winning the physical battle,” Phillips said. “You can’t win the physical battle if you give up 214 yards rushing and only rush for 89 yards on 43 rushes.”

Phillips added that his team didn’t play poorly on offense, but that enough big plays weren’t made and that the turnovers came at time when the UK offense was in good position to score.

“If you look at our four wins, we didn’t turn over the ball once,” said Hartline who entered the game having thrown only four interceptions. “In all the losses we’ve slipped up in that area (UK has committed 15 turnovers in its five losses).”

The loss also means that the Cats dropped below a .500 record for the first time this season.

“We’re tired of being known as a team that’s always fighting back in SEC games,” Lumpkin said. “We need to be a team these last three, four games, whether we go to a bowl game or not, that goes into halftime leading. Yeah we can fight back…but at the end of the day we’re losing.”


Freshman tailback Raymond Sanders, redshirt freshman wide receiver Brian Adams and redshirt freshman safety Dakotah Tyler all got their first career starts… junior linebacker Danny Trevathan made more than 10 tackles (16) for the fifth straight game, the longest since Mike Schnellenberger had 10-plus tackles in five straight games in 1995…Attendance for the game was 54,168…Sanders aggravated an abdominal strain he’s been battling with for four weeks and left the game…Junior wide receiver Randall Cobb finished with a career-high 292 all purpose yards.