Grading Kentucky’s defensive-minded win over Mississippi State
Backed up against an 0-2 wall, Kentucky had to have a win Saturday night against Mississippi State. Thanks to a revved-up UK defense, the Wildcats got that win, 24-2 over the Bulldogs. Never before had a Mike Leach team been held to only 2 points, and Kentucky nabbed 6 interceptions. We’re breaking down the highs and lows of the Wildcats’ win.
What we liked
Not only did 6 interceptions give Kentucky a plus-5 turnover margin, but those picks often came at pivotal moments that defined the game. Josh Paschal’s interception and 76-yard return midway through the second quarter set UK up at the 2-yard line for their 2nd touchdown. Later in the quarter, Jamin Davis preserved a 14-0 edge with a pick in the end zone. In the fourth quarter, Jamar Watson likewise ended an MSU drive with another interception in the end zone. For a team that had forced zero turnovers in two games, the Kentucky defense picked an opportune time to force turnovers.
Kentucky’s outstanding Aussie punter was his usual resourceful self, bombing 8 punts for 44.9 yards per punt, including 3 inside the 20-yard line. Even when State got on the scoreboard on a bad snap over Duffy’s head, Duffy took the safety rather than risking a State touchdown — and then blasted the safety kick 75 yards to flip the field.
Kentucky’s linebacker led the way with 11 tackles as well as his pivotal second-quarter interception. Davis played well sideline-to-sideline against both the run and the pass, and he teamed up well with DeAndre Square to give Kentucky an outstanding linebacker duo.
It’s baby steps with the Kentucky passing game, but tight ends Keaton Upshaw, Brenden Bates and Justin Rigg had 3 catches for 38 yards — more than half of UK’s passing yardage. Given the trouble UK’s receivers have had getting open in space, the tight ends might continue to be an effective option for the ‘Cats.
What we didn’t like
The Wildcats finished with 10 first downs and 157 total yards. If not for the Wildcats defense, it would have been a long evening. The passing game was flat — 8-for-21 for 73 yards — and the ground game was strangely punchless with 2.6 yards per carry. Kentucky had very little offensive production, aside from a 51-yard run by Terry Wilson on UK’s first scoring drive.
The offensive line
Kentucky’s O-line has generally been superb both at press protection and in opening holes in the ground game. State did a good job keeping UK off-balance, but the 6 tackles for loss, including 2 sacks, go in part on Kentucky’s typically dependable line for not doing more to help Wilson get the offense moving. While Kentucky got the win anyway, the Wildcats are hoping this performance was an aberration.
A week after a nearly historic offensive game, Wilson was lost for much of this one. He was 8-for-20 for 73 yards, and his 50 yards on 13 carries were mostly gained on a single play. Kentucky struggled constantly, and if Wilson struggles next week in Knoxville, the calls for Joey Gatewood will likely grow louder.