The Glass Half-Full Society can celebrate Kentucky's final game ever against Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, who went full-Heisman mode Saturday night with 348 yards passing, 117 yards rushing and six touchdowns. He'll close his career with a 4-0 record against UK, 832 yards passing, 270 yards rushing and 11 combined touchdowns. No player in recent memory has had that much individual success against the Wildcats, so we'll give him a tip of the cap and be thankful the dual-threat quarterback will never have another opportunity to torture a UK defense.
A couple of minor highlights for UK included better utilization of freshman tight end C.J. Conrad (a career-high six receptions for 56 yards) and a nice interception by freshman cornerback Chris Westry to end Prescott's streak of 288 pass attempts without an interception. He was closing in on former Wildcat Andre Woodson's NCAA record of 325, so that's, as they say, something.
This was a troubling type of loss to occur in Year 3 of the Mark Stoops regime. Kentucky took a roster with very limited talent and lost only 28-22 on its last trip to Starkville. Last year, the Wildcats battled the No. 1 Bulldogs to a 45-31 outcome at Commonwealth Stadium, a game which was competitive from start to finish. It begs the question: how does a UK team that's much bigger, stronger, faster and experienced get thoroughly dismantled by an unranked MSU squad? This kind of night was thought to be a thing of the past, complete with a bizarre timeout/delay of game situation on a field goal attempt that seemed to cause Stoops to come unhinged, and subsequently, his entire team.
I don't think many UK fans had his game chalked up in the W column, but I sensed all week that most expected the Cats to be in the game until the fourth quarter with a shot to escape Cowbell Hell with a victory. The big question now is whether it will be rallying point similar to the 49-0 loss at LSU in 2006 (which was followed by four consecutive wins after Dicky Lyons Jr.'s bold proclamation) or will it be a repeat of last season when the Cats fell apart after a 5-1 start beginning with 41-3 loss at LSU in Week 7? Stoops faces his biggest coaching challenge of the season this week, trying to get the Cats mentally stabilized with Tennessee rolling into Lexington for a Halloween night showdown.
Perhaps the most disconcerting facets of this ugly loss were the lack of cohesion and purpose on offense -- what, exactly, is this team's identity when it has the ball? -- and the shocking inability to just get lined up properly and prepared for the snap on defense. The first part is somewhat understandable as UK continues to seek its rhythm under first-year offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. He's pushing a lot of different buttons, some that have yielded nice results, but none that have led to consistency. Does this team want to hang its hopes on Patrick Towles' right arm or "Boom" Williams' two legs? I'm not sure there's a right or wrong answer to that, but I do believe that Williams is UK's best player, and the offense continues to go long stretches during each game without getting the ball in his hands. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry last night but finished with a comparatively modest 18 carries in contrast to UK's 52 pass attempts, the latter which resulted in three turnovers. Offensive line play has been a factor, and the Cats were hurt badly by a personal foul against guard Ramsey Meyers inside the MSU 5 that all but closed a small window of opportunity to get back in the game.
Defensively, UK had its hands full with Dak Prescott, just like any unit that faces him. But the ease at which he stood in the pocket and delivered passes or ran for huge gains without having to break a single tackle spoke volumes about the Cats' lack of competitiveness. The game hinges on individual players winning their matchups within the team concept, and UK simply didn't have anyone winning his battles. It was the first time this season that Big Blue Nation truly felt the loss of NFL defensive ends like Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. To make matters worse, Kentucky often looked like someone had pulled a fire alarm before the snap, something that shouldn't be happening 31 games into the Stoops era.