Rapid Reaction: Will Rogers, Mississippi State use ground game and turnovers to rout Kentucky
The Air Raid turned to the ground game Saturday night to churn out some yards against Kentucky in an impressive effort.
In an unexpected turn of events, Mississippi State led Kentucky in rushing yards at halftime as the contrasting offenses looked surprisingly similar early on.
But Will Rogers outplayed Will Levis with a nearly flawless first half as he was 17-for-19 passing for 160 yards, including 11 straight completions at one point, as he led the Bulldogs to 13 first downs. It continued in the second half as State poured on 24 straight points to pull away. The ground game helped State dominate the time of possession by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
The Bulldogs pulled away in the second half with 17 straight points in the third quarter, as Rogers completed his 317th pass of the season, which set a new school record, and broke the mark set by Dak Prescott. State pulled away for a 31-17 victory as Rogers finished 36-for-39 passing for 344 yards and 1 touchdown.
Kentucky’s struggles in Starkville continued, as UK has not won in Starkville since 2008 and has dropped 6 straight at Davis Wade Stadium. Wildcats’ coach Mark Stoops is winless (0-5) in Starkville. Turnovers were a problem for Kentucky, and Will Levis’ third interception late in the third quarter was the fourth of the game for UK.
State appeared to put the game away early in the second half with a long scoring drive, but a touchdown was called back on a penalty and the drive eventually ended with a field goal after 14 plays and 66 yards and 8:26.
But the Bulldogs grabbed the momentum again on the ensuing drive when Chris Rodriguez fumbled after he ran into his own teammate. Rodriguez, who came into Saturday leading the SEC in rushing with 775 yards, was held to just 20 yards on 5 carries by 5:30 left in the third quarter.
On defense, Mississippi State suffered another loss to its already thin secondary early on when Martin Emerson was ejected for targeting on a huge hit on Wan’Dale Robinson near the sideline as Robinson’s head snapped back on the collision.
Mississippi State CB Martin Emerson was ejected for targeting for this hit pic.twitter.com/UTIyej4nM5
— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTBVids_YT) October 30, 2021
It was a rough half for Levis, who was just 11-for-18 passing for 72 yards and 2 interceptions as the Wildcats trailed 14-10 at halftime. The State defense, and pass rush boosted by the blitz, gave Levis trouble, and Kentucky only had one drive that had more than 3 plays that didn’t end with a turnover.
Josh Ali got things started for Kentucky with a 74-yard punt return midway through the first quarter, as the Cats looked in control, especially after Matt Ruffolo hit a 41-yard field goal.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 30, 2021
But then Mississippi State roared back with a pair of 75-yard scoring drives capped by touchdowns by Jo’Quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson later in the first half. The Kentucky defense struggled much of the night even after defensive coordinator Brad White said earlier in the week that tackling would be a key to the game.
Kentucky came into the game looking to end that long losing streak in Starkville, while Mississippi State tried to develop some momentum after a 45-6 beat down of Vanderbilt coupled with avenging last year’s 24-2 loss in Lexington.
It’s been a series of streaks, and State continued a winning streak in its favor. The home team has now won the last 5 meetings in the series.