Kentucky's players will tell you their rallying cry is "Next man up."
Every time they look around, there's another man down.
The Wildcats (1-5, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) lost another quarterback in their fourth straight loss on Saturday, falling to No. 20 Mississippi State (5-0, 3-0 SEC) 27-14 at Commonwealth Stadium.
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"We just keep getting banged up," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "Right now I got one healthy guy."
True freshman quarterback Patrick Towles, pressed into service this week after a season-ending injury to starter Maxwell Smith, was knocked out in the second quarter. He took a 12-yard sack late in the second quarter as the defender rolled up on his right ankle. He spent the second half of the game on the sidelines in a boot, on crutches.
Towles showed some promise before his injury. He went 5-5 for 71 yards on his first drive, including a 32-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver La'Rod King. But the Wildcats went three-and-out on his next drive with three straight running plays, and he was knocked out of the game on his third drive.
"Injuries continue to mount," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "We continue to get younger and younger."
Things weren't any better on the other side of the ball. At one point in the second half, the UK secondary was down to six available players. Five of those were true freshmen.
Freshman defensive back Zack Blaylock saw his first game action of the season along with Towles, jumping in to fill the void left by injuries. With Blaylock and Towles seeing action, the Wildcats have now played 14 true freshmen this season.
"We're dropping like flies, but that's part of football," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. Unfortunately, it's a little bit more than our share right now."
It didn't help that the Wildcats fell behind early again. Mississippi State jumped out to a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. Bulldog quarterback Tyler Russell went 23-39 for 269 yards on the day with two touchdowns, methodically moving the offense. Mississippi State tailback LaDarius Perkins had 110 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries along with 53 receiving yards.
Mississippi State never pulled too far away, but remained in control throughout. The Bulldogs held the ball for nearly 36 minutes of the game and converted on 10 of 18 third downs.
When Towles was knocked out, the Wildcats struggled to respond. Other than Towles' touchdown drive, UK went three-and out on five of its first six offensive possessions. Whitlow found a bit of a rhythm in the second half, but still struggled. He finished 10-21 for 73 yards to go with 26 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Sanders said he was disappointed in Whitlow's performance after the game. The freshman was disappointed in himself.
"Taking sacks that I shouldn't take," Whitlow said. "Just couldn't really throw the ball in the ocean today. That's not good."
Mississippi State threatened again in the closing seconds, pushing the ball two yards away from another touchdown. But the Bulldogs took a knee in the closing seconds. UK had all three timeouts, but didn't bother to use them.
With Towles on the sideline among a growing listed of wounded Wildcats, Phillips let the clock run out. They'd spent the day looking to the next man. They'd started to look to the next week.
"Somewhere down the road, we're not going to be able to say that," Phillips said. "The next guy has to step up and make plays. We didn't make plays."
Towles suffered an ankle injury on the sack and did not return. He spent the second half on the sidelines on crutches and in a boot. His status will be evaluated tomorrow. He said he'd like to return and play this season, but he'd be eligible for a medical hardship waiver if he doesn't play the rest of the year.
Neloms suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter and spent the remainder of the game on crutches. His status will be evaluated on Sunday.
Lowery, who suffered a head injury at Florida, was knocked out of the game with another head injury on Saturday. He had been moved from safety to the hybrid linebacker/safety spot to fill the void left by the injured Miles Simpson. He did not return.
-- Saturday's crowd of 49,498 was the second smallest crowd this season. Only the crowd against Kent State, announced at 48,346 was smaller. Commonwealth Stadium hasn't hosted a crowd smaller than that since 1996, when 33,000 fans were announced at the final home game against Vanderbilt under head coach Bill Curry.
--Kentucky trailed 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, giving up 172 yards while gaining only 17 yards of their own. The Wildcats have not scored an offensive touchdown for 19 consecutive games, dating back to Nov. 27, 2010 at Tennessee. Kentucky is 6-13 in those games.
--Junior linebacker Avery Williamson, who led the SEC in tackles entering the game, added 13 more to his total.He also had a fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry.