STARKVILLE, Miss. --- Mississippi State's annual in-state clash with Ole Miss, the Egg Bowl, is still three weeks away.
It staged a suitable tuneup on Saturday, though, with an Egg-In-The-Face Bowl matchup against Kentucky.
The hapless Bulldogs, losers of five straight and having given up on the season according to many observers, proved to be better than the hopeless Wildcats, losers of 15 consecutive SEC games, in a 17-14 victory Saturday at Scott Field.
Mississippi State (2-5, 1-4 SEC) took advantage of a balanced offensive attack, rushing for 221 yards and passing for 207 against the Cats' beleaguered defense. Dicenzo Miller, back from an ankle injury, looked like his old self with 136 yards on 22 carries to set the tone for the Bulldogs' win.
"We want people to remember at the end of November that we didn't give up, even with the bad start," Miller said.
"For kids not to fold, it's a great feeling (for a coach) to have," MSU coach Jackie Sherrill said.
For Kentucky (1-7, 0-6 SEC) it was a familiar day of missed opportunities, dropped passes and penalties. The Cats led for most of the game, but again couldn't hold up in the fourth quarter.
Kentucky led 14-10 midway through the fourth quarter before MSU's Kevin Fant got the Bulldogs on the comeback path. Fant, who came on in relief of the struggling Wayne Madkin, completed a 76-yard pass to a wide open Justin Jenkins to set up the go-ahead score. Dontae Walker's 2-yard run put the Bulldogs up 17-14 at the 7:31 mark.
The Cats responded with an impressive drive of their own --- highlighted by Jared Lorenzen's 50-yard pass to Champ Kelly --- but it stalled when they couldn't take advantage of a first-and-10 at the 14-yard line, and Seth Hanson missed a 28-yard field goal.
Mississippi State was forced to punt the ball with 2:23 left, and it appeared Kentucky still had life when Lorenzen completed four straight passes to Derek Abney to reach the Bulldogs' 44-yard line.
Lorenzen, who completed 26 of 46 attempts for 320 yards, tried to make it five straight to Abney when the sophomore receiver was leveled on a potential touchdown pass, giving the Cats first-and-10 at the MSU 31 via pass interference.
From there, however, the wheels came off for Kentucky.
On first down, Lorenzen avoided pressure and appeared to have completed a pass to tight end Derek Smith, but officials ruled that he was "in the grasp" of the defender, a rule that reportedly does not exist in the college game. The play resulted in an 11-yard loss and backed the Cats up to the 42.
Incomplete passes followed on second and third down. A desperation fourth-and-31 pass fell well short of the needed yardage, and the Bulldogs escaped with a victory.
"It's bittersweet," said Abney, who caught a career-high 12 passes for 123 yards on the day. "It's the same thing every week... we gotta learn how to finish."
"It's frustrating," said UK coach Guy Morriss, whose team was outgained 221-2 in net rushing, was sacked five times, committed two turnovers, failed to recover any of MSU's four fumbles, missed two field goals, and had nine costly penalties for 60 yards in losses. "The kids played hard. We didn't play real smart at times and kind of shot ourselves in the foot on several occasions.
"The defensive effort was good. They kept us close enough, obviously, that we could have won the football game."
Kentucky led 7-0 on a 14-yard pass from Lorenzen to Aaron Boone with 9:25 left in the second quarter. The touchdown was set up by a David Johnson interception of Madkin, who was only 11-of-22 for 87 yards before being yanked by Sherrill.
The Cats carried that lead into halftime and did not allow an MSU point until Fant's 8-yard pass to Jenkins with 7:47 left in the third.
UK quickly regained the lead three plays later on a 38-yard touchdown strike from Lorenzen to Ernest Simms, but the Bulldogs marched right back down the field for a 22-yard field goal from John Michael Marlin to cut the deficit to 14-10 with 13:09 left in the game.
Each of Kentucky's final three drives moved inside MSU territory and failed to produce points.
"(The fourth quarter) has plagued us all year long," Morriss said. "Learning how to operate in these conditions, pressure situations with a lot at stake, I think we're still getting a little flustered."