Rapid Reaction: Kentucky's defense makes history in win over Mississippi State
A week after getting shredded by Ole Miss QB Matt Corral, Kentucky had a chance to flip the script against Mississippi State QB KJ Costello. Mission accomplished. The Wildcats’ defense stood tall in UK’s 24-2 win over MSU and former UK offensive coordinator Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack.
It was the first time in Leach’s 19-year career as a head coach that his offense did not score. The game ended, fittingly, with an interception, Kentucky’s 6th of the night.
After a scoreless 1st quarter, Kentucky got on the board when senior QB Terry Wilson found sophomore TE Keaton Upshaw on a 12-yard scoring strike with 12:13 to play in the 2nd quarter. That pass was set up by a 51-yard run from Wilson. Those plays were rare offensive highlights for UK on a week when the Wildcats had 100 total yards early in the 4th quarter.
Kentucky improved on its 7-0 lead late in the 2nd quarter when linebacker Josh Paschal dropped into coverage and nabbed a Costello pass at the UK 20. With only green grass ahead of him, the 280-pound Paschal rumbled 78 yards to the MSU 2. On the following play, sophomore RB Chris Rodriguez rumbled into the end zone to extend the Kentucky lead to 14-0. On the final play of the half, UK ended an MSU drive when linebacker Jamin Davis corralled a Costello pass in the end zone.
The teams traded turnovers early in the 3rd quarter, with LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph grabbing his first interception of the season for Kentucky. Midway through the 3rd quarter, Kentucky long snapper Cade Degraw snapped the ball well over the head of punter Max Duffy, who chased it down and booted the ball through his own end zone for a safety that got MSU on the board.
State was threatening early in the 4th quarter, but Kentucky nabbed another interception, with linebacker Jamar Watson ending the MSU threat. Later in the quarter, UK linebacker Jordan Wright grabbed an 8-yard pick-6 for the final margin.
After Kentucky’s offense was brilliant last week, the UK offensive attack struggled against State. MSU outgained Kentucky, but Kentucky meanwhile flipped the script on a -4 turnover margin entering the game. Kentucky’s now in the odd position of being 0-2 when outgaining the opposing offense, and 1-0 when being outgained.
While Costello again completed a high percentage of passes, Kentucky did a good job limiting yards after the catch, and also benefited from 4 interceptions from Costello. Backup QB Will Rogers entered the game in the 3rd quarter but also struggled to move the offense before adding to the turnover parade.
The Wildcats picked up their first win of the season ahead of next week’s matchup at 2-1 Tennessee. After 3 weeks, only Vanderbilt remains winless in the SEC, while only Alabama and Georgia are unbeaten. For Kentucky, the outlook at 1-2 still features the opportunity to wreak havoc on an already unpredictable SEC season.