UK collapses in season opener, falls 44-35 to Southern Miss

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Nick Mullens ran for two 1-yard touchdowns – including the go-ahead score late in the third quarter – and passed for two TDs as Southern Mississippi scored 34 unanswered points to upset Kentucky 44-35 in its season opener on Saturday night.

Kentucky appeared in control with a 35-10 second quarter lead as Drew Barker threw TD passes of 72, 43, 9 and 53 yards on drives totaling 13 plays. Jojo Kemp’s 7-yard TD run seemed to provide a cushion that the Wildcats’ defense complemented with three interceptions of Mullens.

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Neither Mullens nor the Golden Eagles quarterback panicked as he answered Kentucky’s final score with a 71-yard TD pass to Isaiah Jones with 26 seconds left before halftime. Mullens then sandwiched 1-yard TD runs around an 18-yard scoring pass to Julian Allen, followed by two Parker Schaunfield field goals.

Mullens finished 18 of 28 passing for 258 yards to help Jay Hopson win his debut as Golden Eagles coach.

THE TAKEAWAY

SOUTHERN MISS: The Golden Eagles stuck with the game despite being outscored 35-3 in the first half, rebounding with the duo of Mullens and Ito Smith (36 carries, 173 yards, 1 TD). Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson got the final word against his former team as Southern Miss outgained Kentucky 554-443 and dominated the final 32 minutes. The victory ended a 13-game losing streak to Southeastern Conference schools.

KENTUCKY: The Wildcats still have time to reach the six-win plateau for bowl eligibility. But they blew a huge lead and opportunity in a game they had to win toward that end, and an 0-2 start seems possible with a trip to No. 25 Florida looming. Kentucky blew a 21-point lead in a 38-24 loss to Louisville in last season’s finale.

UP NEXT

SOUTHERN MISS: The Golden Eagles aim to follow up their big win when they host FCS Savannah State next weekend.

KENTUCKY: The Wildcats visit No. 25 Florida next Saturday in hopes of ending a 29-game losing streak to the Gators – not to mention, annual media questions about it. Kentucky has come close the past two years and aims to finally seal the deal in the nationally televised game at The Swamp.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Alex Risen joined the ABC 36 News team in October of 2011 as ABC 36’s Weekend Sports Anchor/ Sports Reporter. Alex can also be seen Friday nights co-anchoring the Highschool Highlight Reel. Alex started out in the broadcast business while still in college at the University of Kentucky, heading up the school’s daily student news network as the Sports Director. He made his commercial televsion debut in May of 2011 while at WYMT in Hazard, Kentucky as co-host of a weekly, half-hour high school sports program previewing area schools’ games on Friday nights and as a morning sports anchor. Alex has also spent time as an intern at ESPN in the Statistics and Analysis department, as a production assistant for NBC Sports horse racing and Sunday Night Football productions, and as an intern for WLKY in his hometown of Louisville, KY. Alex graduated from Saint Xavier High School in 2007 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism and Political Science from the University of Kentucky in 2010 where he graduated magna cum laude from the Honors Program. He’s excited to be covering his passion in his home state and make Central Kentucky his home for years to come. Alex can be reached at ARisen@wtvq.com