Report Card: Kentucky tests No. 1 Mississippi State in thriller in Bluegrass
The Kentucky offense was superb in defeat, amassing 504 yards of total offense and 31 points to match one of the SEC’s best offenses score for score. After Mississippi State took a 17-10 lead in the first half, Kentucky could never get closer than seven points on the scoreboard but never fell further than 14 points behind, either. Patrick Towles threw for 390 yards, ran for 76 more and accounted for four total touchdowns in the loss, and he completed three passes of at least 55 yards in addition to a huge 48-yard run in his best game as a starter. Ryan Timmons caught five passes for 114 yards, and Javess Blue and Demarco Robinson also gained more than 80 yards each through the air to help Kentucky to one of its best offensive showings of the year. The Cats lost by two touchdowns, but it wasn’t because they failed on offense.
Kentucky limited Heisman frontrunner Dak Prescott to one of his worst outings of the year, holding him to just 304 yards of offense in the Bulldogs’ victory. The Cats deserve credit for containing Prescott better than any other Mississippi State opponent, but they still allowed the Bulldogs to run up 45 points to maintain their undefeated record. MSU tailback Josh Robinson ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns, wearing the Kentucky defense down as the game progressed. The Wildcats missed far too many tackles on Saturday, especially on Robinson’s carries, costing UK on a day when it’s offense was clicking on all cylinders. The Cats did a great job in limiting Prescott, but they did not do a good enough job of limiting the rest of the Bulldogs offense in the loss.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Kentucky’s special teams were much better this week than they were in last week’s loss to LSU, but they still left room for improvement in the loss to Mississippi State. Kentucky did not allow Mississippi State to break any long returns on kickoffs or punts, but it did not break any big returns of its own. In fact, Robinson ran for -5 yards on two punt returns, and averaged fewer than 20 yards per kickoff return. Landon Foster landed four of his six punts inside the MSU 20 without a single touchback, but kicker Austin MacGinnis missed his fourth field goal of the year in defeat (to be fair it was a 50-yard attempt). And although it failed to recover an onside kick late in the game, it was unacceptable to allow MSU’s Christian Holmes to return the onside kick for a game-ending touchdown. UK’s special teams had their ups and downs, ultimately earning a C grade.
Kentucky’s coaching staff had its work cut out for it in facing the No. 1 team in the country one week after losing by 38 points on the road. A young Kentucky team could have allowed the loss to LSU to derail its season, but the Wildcats’ coaches kept the team focused and confident, and Kentucky played with a tremendous swagger on Saturday. That’s a reflection of great coaching, as the swagger comes from great preparation and the confidence instilled in the team by its coaches. Kentucky may have lost the game, but it tested Mississippi State as much as anyone all season, thanks in large part to brilliant coaching during the week by UK’s staff. The Cats did not have many suspect play calls in any phase of Saturday’s game, so the coaches earn an impressive B+, only falling short of an A because Kentucky fell short of a victory.
Kentucky earns a B for its showing on Saturday, as a B indicates an above-average performance. The Wildcats were far above average in pushing the nation’s No. 1 team to the brink, posting some of their best offensive numbers all season while limiting the Heisman frontrunner to one of his worst games of 2014. It’s tough to justify awarding a losing team an A, but Kentucky came close to earning an A despite falling by 14 points at home. The Wildcats showed they are far better than last week’s rout indicated, and the impressive showing against Mississippi State on the SEC Game of the Week earned them plenty of national credibility going forward.