Wildcats no longer kittens of SEC

The Kentucky Wildcats can't win this year.<br><br>Maybe that's why they're doing it so well.<br><br>The Kentucky program is suffering an NCAA-mandated probation that prohibits it from winning a conference title or participating in the post-season, but the Wildcats have chosen to make their presence felt anyway.

Kentucky is 6-3 overall (2-3 in the Southeastern Conference), and Saturday's win over Mississippi State was the program's first back-to-back SEC road wins since 1984, guaranteeing its first non-losing season since 1999. The team formerly known as the Mildcats are almost bowl-eligible in a season when they are banned from bowls, and it's possible their record could have been even better.


Blown scoring opportunities led to the ‘Cats 16-12 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 12, and two weeks later a 24-21 halftime lead over No. 5 Georgia ended up as a 52-24 Bulldog rout.


After trailing hapless Mississippi State 17-16 at halftime last Saturday, Kentucky coach Guy Morriss went into the locker room and, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, "freaked out."


The report says that Morriss took a folding chair and slammed it against a blackboard before punching a wooden locker, breaking his right hand in the process. The display must have hit the mark, so to speak, because the Wildcats went out and outscored MSU 29-7 in the second half after seeing a 10-0 first-quarter lead wither away.


"That was the first time I had ever seen Coach Morriss like that," said senior punter Glenn Pakulak. "We knew he meant business."


"I thought we were kind of due for a kick in the butt," junior receiver Derek Abney said. "We had been in this situation before, and other things hadn't worked. He's always been kind of a discipline guy, but he usually wants us to be men and take care of it ourselves. But today he decided to give us a kick-start, and we probably needed it."


"It's been broken before," Morriss said. "It got their attention, and it got the results I was looking for, so I'll take it."


While the coach was breaking his hand, it's been Abney who has been breaking records.


The Wildcat wide receiver has a school- and SEC-record four punt returns for touchdowns this season. Two of them were game-breakers against Mississippi State and occurred within a five-minute span — a 69-yarder early the third quarter that put Kentucky back on top, 23-17, and one from 52 yards out that gave the Wildcats a 37-17 with 7:15 left in the same period.


Abney now has five touchdown punt returns in his career, setting a school record and tying a conference record.


The junior from Mosinee, Wis., returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown, and caught a TD pass against Florida, and also returned a punt 86 yards for a score at Arkansas.


"I don't know why they keep kicking it to that man," teammate Derrick Tatum said of Abney. "Every time they kick it to that man, he takes it to the house."


It's a situation to which may LSU fans can relate, with the Tigers' Domanick Davis continuously able to produce on special teams. Abney is a close second to Davis in the conference in all purpose yards, averaging 159 yards per game to Davis' 168.1.


Much like LSU coach Nick Saban, Morriss doesn't see special teams as fluff to largely be ignored, though Kentucky special teams coach Mark Nelson is quick to point out that there are ten other guys working just as hard on the filed.


One of them is behemoth quarterback Jared Lorenzen, the 275-pound southpaw with a rifle arm who is nearly impossible to tackle. Against the Mississippi State, he broke the school record for consecutive passes without an interception, completing 10 of 22 passes for 141 yards to run his streak to 122 attempts.


Running back Artose Pinner rushed for more than 100 yards for the sixth time this season against State, eating up 104 yards on a career-high 31 carries, and is only four yards short of 1,000 for the season. The senior leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 111.5 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry.


The Kentucky pass defense, ranked eleventh in the league heading into last week's contest, also stepped up, picking off four Bulldog passes, the most interceptions by a Kentucky team since the ‘Cats grabbed seven in a loss to Florida in 1993.


Despite the well-rounded team play that the Wildcats showed against Mississippi State, they haven't been consistent enough to be described as "balanced." MSU is an abysmal team, and Kentucky will have to fire on more cylinders than Abney if it expects to beat an LSU team hungry to exorcise its whipping at the hands of Auburn two weeks ago.


But it's hard to discount the exciting potential an explosive return man brings to the table. The LSU-Kentucky matchup may just come down to whomever can bring home the most punts or kickoffs, which may not be good football, or smart football, but it sure does make for exciting football.


— Kentucky Sports Information contributed to this story

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