CATEGORY: FOC College Football
HED:Gunslinger gunned down at Scott Corral
By Gene Phelps
STARKVILLE Pass-happy Kentucky and its sophomore gunslinger Tim Couch met their match Saturday afternoon.
His name, and it should be a familiar one to first-year UK coach Hal Mumme, is Joe Lee Dunn. The crafty, diminutive Mississippi State defensive coordinator ran his record to 5-0 against Mumme's wide-open offenses with the Bulldogs' 35-27 SEC victory over the Wildcats at sun-baked Scott Field.
"Our kids played their hearts out today," a smiling Dunn said, after watching his defense slow down Kentucky's passing game in the second half. "In my opinion, they deserved to win."
Dunn recorded his other wins over Mumme when the two were coaching against each other in the WACat New Mexico (Dunn) and Texas-El Paso (Mumme).
But this fifth meeting had to be one of Dunn's biggest challenges. Kentucky's Couch throttled rival Louisville in last week's season opener with a school-record passing performance, connecting on 36-of-50 attempts for 398 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-24 win.
Dunn's game plan was to confuse Couch early with blitzes and coverages. It didn't work that well in the first half, as Couch survived two sacks to complete 22-of-36 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns in directing his team to a 21-10 halftime lead.
Bulldogs start out 'wild'
As usual, Dunn had something crazy in store for the Wildcats to start the game. On Kentucky's first possession the Bulldogs lined up with seven defensive backs and four linebackers. Dunn called it his "wild" defense, and that best described it. What Couch and company saw were 11 defenders, who were all standing up.
It was a decoy defense, "Something to make him (Couch) think about," Dunn said. "We wanted to use it for the first three plays. We had everything just right and Dereck Rush (a defensive end) leaves his man wide open."
Rush's man was Kentucky running back Anthony White, who caught a Couch pass for an 11-yard gain on a third-and-8 play. Couch went on to direct his unit on an 8-play, 80-yard opening march that ended with him firing a 6-yard touchdown strike to receiver Lance Mickleson.
Couch, who had a BYU-type passing day, firing 61 passes and completing 39 for 349 yards and four scores, said he expected to see plenty of blitzes and a lot of defensive looks up front.
"It didn't throw me off," Couch said of Dunn's "wild" alignment.
Zone coverage stymies UK
However, Couch was thrown off in the second half by Mississippi State's switch to more zone coverage.
"We got tired playing man in the first half," Dunn said of the coverage switch. "They (Kentucky) got tired, too. You can't throw every down."
Couch was 17-of-25 in the final half for 138 yards and one score. He also suffered an interception on the Wildcats' second possession of the half. Plus, he was sacked three more times in the second half. The last one came with under four minutes remaining when Couch was tatooed by a blitzing safety Eric Brown. The hit jarred the ball loose and the Bulldogs recovered at the UK 35. They added an insurance TD after the turnover.
"I thought Joe Lee Dunn did a great job in the second half adjusting," UK's Mumme said.
Kentucky's lone second-half highlight was a fake punt which kept a drive alive and resulted in an eventual touchdown - a 19-yard pass from Couch to Kio Sanford.
"They wouldn't have scored in the second half except for that fake punt," a confident Dunn said. "I'm real proud of our guys and their play in the second half."
MSU strong safety Tim Nelson, who intercepted Couch in the third quarter, said: "The main thing Coach Dunn stressed before the game was to hustle. He said if we hustled, we could stop everything they did."
The Bulldogs didn't stop everything, but they stopped enough to be standing 2-0 heading into next week's Western Division showdown with LSU.
Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal