The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: UK-MSU

In this edition of "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly," we're breaking down the highs and lows from Kentucky's 27-14 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.


Towles' First Appearance: Someday, Patrick Towles will tell his grandchildren that his first touchdown pass as a Wildcat was a majestic spiral that hit La'Rod King in a gazelle-like stride just beyond the outstretched arm of blanket coverage by the defensive back. (Cue NFL Films soundtrack.) Well, not quite. The highly-touted freshman's first career TD pass looked was the partly the result of a defensive back slipping, and King looked like he was fielding a punt more than a pass, but it's like they say in baseball: "It'll look like a line drive in the boxscore." Actually, the most impressive part of the play was the poise Towles showed in standing in the face of pressure from Mississippi State Benardrick McKinney and delivering a strong throw into the end zone while taking a big hit. You won't see that too many times from a freshman, who have the tendency to drift and throw off the back foot in that situation. Towles was 5-for-5 for 71 yards on his first series, which will do nothing but increase expectations for the Bluegrass State's reigning "Mr. Football."

Punter: Hello. 1994 called. It wants its weekly player of the week honor back. We used to laugh (to keep from crying) during the Bill Curry era when the UK radio network's player of the game honor went to a punter seemingly every week. Sure, UK was losing 65-0, but the punter was summoned to the postgame show each Saturday to talk about doing the one thing nobody in your fan section ever wants to see happen. In all seriousness, though, Landon Foster is one really bright spot for the Wildcats. When he jogs out there, chances are the field is getting flipped. The freshman from Tennessee had four punts of 50 yards or longer against MSU and put three inside the Bulldogs' 20-yard line.

Nothing to write home about, but… The Cats allowed a season-low 158 rushing yards to the Bulldogs. I'll reluctantly count that as a positive, but I'm wondering if that had more to do with what appeared to be something of an experimental approach by State. I got the impression Dan Mullen knows the Bulldogs will have to throw the ball more in upcoming games Alabama and LSU and saw this as a good opportunity to work on the passing game. But you did see UK make more stops around the line of scrimmage.


Kentucky Tackling: The Cats have struggled defensively all season, but their tackling issues looked more pronounced on Saturday. Perhaps that's a result of injuries mounting and Mississippi State being a very physical team, but the Cats had several opportunities to stop the Bulldogs before they reached the sticks in this game, but just weren't able to wrap-up. I counted no fewer than three third-down plays that MSU was able to move the chains when it should have been forced to punt.

Luck: Mississippi State scored its first touchdown on a play that was somewhat reminiscent of the throw-back pass Western Kentucky used to beat the Cats in Week 3 of the season. Although the pass came from the quarterback this time, it was a play designed to stretch the defense to the right side of the field and throw completely back to the left side to fullback Adrian Marcus. In sequence of events that kind of sums up how UK's season is going, defensive end Taylor Wyndham read the play correctly and stayed home, but was inadvertently knocked to the ground by teammate Martavius Neloms. The collision allowed Marcus to cruise into the end zone for an easy score.

Just When You Think Things Can't Get Worse… Kentucky fans barely had a chance to settle down from Towles' first scoring drive before he joined the walking wounded with a scary-looking ankle injury on his third series of the game. A more experienced quarterback probably would have taken the sack immediately, but the youthful competitor in Towles fought to stay up and was probably hurt worse as a result. He left the field on crutches wearing a protective "boot" device on his right ankle.

Bizarre Play-Calling: There is no question the UK staff is in a tough spot with the injuries that have occurred at the quarterback position, but it's hard to convince the fans to keep coming back to the stadium when they see a steady stream of hand-offs and draw-plays on long-yardage situations and watch the quarterbacks repeatedly throw short of the sticks on third down. While it's true there aren't a great deal of plays that have a high success rate in those situations, at the very least you've got to show your fans (and your players) that you're trying to win. There's a very concessionary feel to the Cats' offense right now.

Empty Seats: Let's face it: no one is ever taking actual attendance at sporting events. They're always make-believe figures based more on tickets sold than how many show up in the stands. The announced figure was 49,498 on Saturday, but this was by far the least-attended game of the season, including the lackluster Kent State matchup. I'd be surprised if the real figure was much more than 40K. Prior to leading the Cats onto the field, Joker Phillips glanced up into the stands and had a dejected look on his face. He knows all too well the empty seats are the biggest threat to his job.


By The Numbers:

2 – Only the second loss for UK under Joker Phillips while winning the turnover battle. The Cats, who were turnover-free on the day, had won nine of their 10 games under Phillips when they were on the positive side of the turnover margin.

4 – Consecutive losses to the Bulldogs. If the Cats are ever going to climb the ladder in the SEC, this is a game they have to bring back to the W column.

5 – Three-and-outs by the UK offense. Out of 12 possessions. Not good.

9 – Plays made behind the line of scrimmage against the UK offense.

14 – Number of "true" freshmen the Cats have played this season. By the way, I hate that term. When did it get so popular? Why am I using it in my story? You're either a freshman or you're a redshirt freshman.

19 – Games in a row the Cats have not scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter. (Quick. Trivia time. Who was the last UK player to score a touchdown in The Opening stanza?)

56 – MSU's third-down conversion rate. Throw in a fourth-down conversion and it's even higher. The UK defense simply can't get off the field, regardless of the distance the opponent needs to convert. That ominous bell they ring at Commonwealth Stadium prior to opponents' third-down situations usually means a disappointing play is coming for the Cats.

104 – Kentucky's new national ranking in total offense.

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