LEXINGTON, Ky.: Dicky Lyons Jr. was supposed to be the vocal veteran leader to bridge the gap between a dynamic passing attack that won two straight Music City Bowls and a cast of young but talented replacements.
But that plan was derailed Monday morning with an MRI that showed Lyons tore two ligaments in his right knee while making a catch during the Wildcats' 24-17 loss to South Carolina.
The prognosis was grim both for Lyons himself and a Kentucky team that has failed to find the offensive magic to approach that of the two last two seasons, when quarterback Andre Woodson, receivers Keenan Burton and Steve Johnson, and tight end Jacob Tamme joined Lyons as playmakers.
Lyons' season and collegiate career are over. Surgery to repair the posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments will keep him sidelined for eight months to a year, coach Rich Brooks said.
"He's devastated," Brooks said. "You know what kind of personality he is, how much this all meant to him. Tough thing. It's not how anybody envisioned this would end for him at Kentucky."
Lyons, son of former Kentucky superstar Dicky Lyons Sr., finished his career with 141 catches for 1,752 yards and 18 touchdowns. This year, his 33 receptions equaled those of the next two highest totals combined, and he had a team-high 264 receiving yards and two touchdown catches. He also handled 20 of the team's 23 kickoff returns.
"Dicky was the most consistent thing probably we had going on offense, the most consistent receiver we've up to this point," linebacker Micah Johnson said. "You easily rely on if you get the ball in his vicinity, he'll catch it. Somebody else is going to have to step up. He's not the only receiver we've got on scholarship."
Kentucky (4-2, 0-2) hosts Arkansas on Saturday, coached by former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, before a brutal stretch of games against Southeastern Conference powerhouses Florida, Georgia and Tennessee along with much-improved Vanderbilt.
As for Lyons' chances of catching on with an NFL team despite the injury, Brooks said it's too early to tell. Lyons' 5-11, 190-pound frame is smaller than most pro teams consider optimal for a receiver, but his coach said he thinks Lyons could still man an impact as a return man.
"There's a resume on tape everyone can evaluate," Brooks said.