“I played a lot of wide receiver in high school, that was probably my main position,” he said. “I was kind of like the go-to receiver so I’m used to catching balls.”
Kentucky’s quarterback can wish Calhoun had stayed on offense in college. Instead he’s a senior cornerback, and two of Patrick Towles’ passes ended up in this Bulldog’s hands as interceptions.
“It was just being in the right place at the right time,” Calhoun said.
Mississippi State sees it as having the right Dog in the right place at the right times. Calhoun’s picks did as much as anyone else, and more, to throw Kentucky’s air attack out of whack.
“I just kind of stuck my hand out on both of them and made a good play.”
Well, it was a little more involved than just sticking out a hand. Calhoun’s first interception, late in the second quarter, was merely outstanding. The other, coming early in the third period, was exceptional. In that short span Calhoun intercepted half as many passes as he had for the previous three-and-a-half Mississippi State seasons.
The twist to this tale is that Kentucky was even attacking Calhoun at all. With classmate and fellow starter Will Redmond lost for the year to a practice knee injury, senior leader Calhoun should have been the Bulldog back avoided at all costs.
But Kentucky wasn’t crazy. They were testing Calhoun after a frightening moment for Dog and team. The Wildcats began a series by throwing down their right sideline for Ryan Timmons, too high for anyone. Calhoun leaped anyway, landed badly…and stayed down. “I just kind of fell on a guy, I think, and bruised the back of my leg,” he said. Two trainers helped Calhoun off, his right leg hanging.
Once on the sideline, though, he got on the bike for a bit and then jogged around. Nothing was damaged after all.
“More than anything it was just panic, I got kind of scared for a minute for the initial pain. Once they calmed me down I realized it wasn’t that bad and I could finish the game.”
So, why wouldn’t Kentucky test Calhoun when he did return? Mistake. A series later with first down on their 42, the Wildcats looked for Dorian Baker. Towles didn’t have a good eye on Calhoun.
“I kind of disguised pretty well, we worked on that a lot. I think he thought I was in man, so when he threw the ball I tried to do just like the receiver drill. You know, try to keep him behind me. I wish I could have got it with two hands, that would have made it easier.”
But less impressive as Calhoun lunged, stretched, and made the two-fisted catch. Just like a good wideout would. What came next, now, was purely great. With second down on the UK 26, again Baker was the target. This time Calhoun was behind his man.
“I felt the guy had me beat. When he threw the ball I’m just going to jump as far as I can and hopefully get a hand on the ball. When I jumped, I tipped it and he kind of tipped it to me. Thank God for length and for tipping the ball my way!”
“It was great, he deserves it,” said OLB Beniquez Brown. “After he got hurt I got real nervous, seeing him not being able to put any pressure on it. But going out there and making those plays I’m real excited for him.”
Brown himself was briefly excited as in the fourth quarter he had a pick-six, only to see it called back on a roughing call. An interception by DT Cory Thomas did hold up, even if a flag flew for celebrating. So State came out with a 3-to-1 margin in turnovers, all of them interceptions.
“Just the way we practiced this week,” Calhoun said. “Our scout team receivers we were battling all week. We made plays in practice and they say you play like you practice. So I have to credit practice.”
Now he can also accept credit and praise and whatever for a two-interception evening, both picks genuinely highlight-worthy. Though, Calhoun said, he didn’t have a chance to enjoy them on jumbotron replay.
“I’ll try to watch it when I get back to my apartment.”