Defense Leads Cats Past Mississippi State

Defense Leads Cats Past Mississippi State

by Tim Letcher

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky defense forced six turnovers and held Mississippi State to just two points as the Cats won for the first time this season by beating the Bulldogs 24-2 on Saturday night at Kroger Field.

In the process, Kentucky held the Mike Leach-coached Bulldogs to the fewest points that any Leach-coached team has ever scored. Previously, Leach-coached teams, which feature the Air Raid offense that Hal Mumme used at Kentucky, had never been held below three points.

Offensively, Kentucky could never get much going. Quarterback Terry Wilson hit on only eight of 20 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. Wilson also led the Cats in rushing, carrying 13 times for 50 yards. Kentucky had just 157 yards of offense in the game compared to Mississippi State’s 296. But the six turnovers were the difference.

The teams exchanged punts twice to open the game. Neither team was able to get anything going in the first period, as UK had just 53 yards of total offense, while MSU was held to 48. That resulted in a scoreless tie after 15 minutes of action.

Early in the second quarter, MSU had a chance to get on the board, but a 56-yard field goal attempt by Brandon Ruiz came up short and the game remained scoreless.

On the ensuing possession, Kentucky appeared to be going nowhere until Wilson scrambled for a 51-yard run, getting the case to the MSU 14. Two plays later, Wilson hit Keaton Upshaw over the middle for a 12-yard touchdown pass, breaking the scoring drought. Matt Ruffolo made the PAT and the Cats grabbed a 7-0 lead with 12:13 left in the first half.

Later in the second quarter, MSU drove into the UK red zone before Josh Paschal intercepted a KJ Costello pass and returned it 76 yards to the MSU two yard line. From there, Kentucky needed just one play, a two-yard touchdown rush from Chris Rodriguez Jr. to extend the lead. After Ruffolo’s PAT, the Cats had a 14-0 lead with 3:48 left in the half.

MSU drove deep into Kentucky territory near the end of the first half. On the final play of the half, Costello threw into the end zone and was picked off by UK’s Jamin Davis. That ended the half with the Cats leading 14-0.

In the second half, MSU went for a fourth-and-inches from their own 34 yard line. But Costello’s pass intended for Cameron Gardner was incomplete and Kentucky took over in excellent field position. But the Cats’ AJ Rose fumbled on the second play of the possession, giving the ball right back to the Bulldogs.

But the Bulldogs gave it right back to the Cats. On the fourth play of the ensuing drive, Costello was intercepted by UK’s Kelvin Joseph at the UK 30 with 10:37 left in the third quarter. But the Cats would do nothing with the possession and were forced to punt.

MSU would finally get on the board when, on a fourth down, Kentucky snapped the ball over Max Duffy’s head on a punt attempt. Duffy scrambled to kick the ball out the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety and making it 14-2 with 5:49 left in the third quarter.

The third quarter would end with MSU driving into UK territory. But the Cats led 14-2 with 15 minutes to play.

As the fourth quarter started, reserve quarterback Will Rogers was intercepted by Jamar “Boogie” Watson in the end zone, thwarting another MSU scoring opportunity.

Another interception was the final straw as UK’s Jordan Wright picked off Rogers and returned it eight yards for a touchdown the put the Cats ahead 21-2.

Kentucky returns to action next week, facing Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. Kickoff is set for noon and the television network will be announced on Sunday.

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