Sunday, September 22, 2002
Kentucky 44, Middle Tennessee 22
Wildcats take 4-0 record to Florida next week
The Associated Press
LEXINGTON, Ky. As time ticked down on Kentucky's fourth straight victory to open the season, a seldom-heard chant rained down from the stands at Commonwealth Stadium.
Beat the Gators, the raucous crowd yelled in unison Saturday as the Wildcats celebrated their 44-22 victory over Middle Tennessee.
With the victory, Kentucky improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1984. It also set up the Wildcats for a nationally televised, Southeastern Conference opener next weekend at No. 10 Florida.
There's not anybody on this team or on this staff that's been 4-0 before, Kentucky coach Guy Morriss said proudly. It's a special feeling.
These kids are already pumped up about going down to play Florida. We think we're going to win every game. These kids really believe that.
The victory also gave Kentucky as many wins as it tallied in its past two seasons combined, when the Wildcats were at or near the bottom of the conference's standings and most of its statistical categories.
Artose Pinner, the SEC's leading rusher, continued to be the Wildcats' workhorse, rushing 24 times for 163 yards and scoring on runs of 54, 13 and 9 yards.
Pinner now has rushed for 100 or more yards in three straight games, equaling the number of 100-yard efforts he had his first three seasons. He also caught three passes for 19 yards, including a 13-yarder for a touchdown.
Who would have ever thought we'd be 4-0 going into "The Swamp', Pinner said. A lot of people thought our (in-state) rival would beat us, too, but we made it through that.
Jared Lorenzen, the conference's top-rated passer, also continued his stellar play, completing 22 of 31 passes for 305 yards, including scoring passes of 72, 33 and 9 yards.
Our confidence is very, very high right now, said Lorenzen, who recorded his first 300-yard passing game of the year. This is one of the tightest-knit bunch of guys I've been around, and it's just fun to go out and play.
Dwone Hicks rushed 16 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns to lead Middle Tennessee (0-3), which lost to an SEC school for the third straight week. His 1-yard TD plunge in the second quarter was the 45th of his career, giving him the school record.
Andrico Hines completed 10 of 19 passes for a career-best 202 yards and his first collegiate touchdown for the Blue Raiders, who are 1-5 against SEC schools over the past two seasons.
We had chances and opportunities all day, but we missed too many tackles, Middle Tennessee coach Andy McCollum said. That last run by Pinner was ridiculous. We had to miss eight tackles on that play.
Overall, it wasn't a good day. We've got a lot to go back home and work on.
Kentucky scored on its first three possessions, aided by two Middle Tennessee fumbles, to go up 17-0 midway through the first quarter.
Pinner scored on a 13-yard run up the middle to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead with 12:10 remaining. Lorenzen then found a wide-open Derek Abney for a 33-yard TD with 9:25 to play.
ReShard Lee fumbled away the ensuing kickoff at Middle Tennessee's 26. Four plays later, Taylor Begley hit a 49-yard field goal to give Kentucky a 17-0 lead.
Middle Tennessee rebounded with a 10-play, 99-yard drive, scoring on Hicks' 1-yard run and a 2-point conversion to cut the margin to 17-8 with 12:06 remaining in the half.
Pinner scored on a 9-yard run on Kentucky's next possession to push the lead to 24-8 with 8:08 to play. But Hines found Tyrone Calico with a 24-yard scoring pass to cut the lead to 24-16 at halftime.
A bench-clearing brawl at the end of the half led to the ejections of two players from each team Kentucky offensive linemen Sylvester Miller and Michael Aitcheson and Middle Tennessee defensive linemen Devarick Scandrett and Jerry Vanderpool.
Hicks scored on a 17-yard run on Middle Tennessee's first possession of the second half, cutting the lead to 24-22.
I was proud of our offensive line, McCollum said. We did some nice things rushing the football, and they came out as a group and took the challenge.
But Kentucky answered with an 80-yard drive of its own, scoring on Lorenzen's 13-yard pass to Pinner to go up 30-22.
The Wildcats sealed the game on their next possession as Lorenzen hit Aaron Boone on a quick slant down the middle for a 72-yard touchdown.
Pinner completed the scoring with a nifty 54-yard run down the left sideline, spinning through three would-be tacklers near the line of scrimmage before bouncing off two other defenders to get to the outside.
I'm going to have to get him a cape, Morriss said. He's unbelievable.
Boone finished with six catches for 111 yards and a touchdown, while Abney had four receptions for 78 yards and another score.
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