The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday night by a score of 24-2 to secure its first victory of the 2020 season.
Both teams got off to a slow start before Kentucky got the scoring started in the second quarter. After a big 51-yard scramble by Terry Wilson on third and 13, Wilson hit Keaton Upshaw end zone for the first score of the day.
Later on, big defensive end Josh Paschal intercepted a screen pass as the Bulldogs were driving down the field. He returned it 76 yards to the two-yard line before being pushed out of bounds. One play later, Chris Rodriguez ran it in to give UK a 14-0 lead, which they took into the break.
Then, the impossible happened about halfway through the third quarter. Kentucky was looking to punt from its own 45-yard line and a horrible snap over Max Duffy’s head led to a safety, which gave MSU its first points of the day.
Late in the fourth quarter, and to seal Kentucky’s first victory of the season, Jordan Wright intercepted a pass and ran it back eight yards for a touchdown. An absolute gutsy performance by this defense after two weeks of criticism.
Next up, the Cats will travel to Knoxville to take on the rivaled Tennessee Volunteers.
Bryce Oliver and Marquan McCall were out, Josh Paschal was injured
Oliver missed the Cats’ first two games this season and that streak continued this week. Stoops said the starting wideout had a hamstring injury that kept getting reaggravated. It looks like he couldn’t get it back to 100% in time for this week’s game. UK surely could use him on the outside.
McCall, meanwhile, was out with an unknown ailment. Kentucky’s backup NG surprisingly missed Saturday night’s game. They definitely missed his ability to spell Quinton Bohanna and disrupt things up the middle. Let’s hope this is a short absence for Bully.
Finally, Josh Paschal played in Saturday’s game, but after making several huge plays—more on that below—he suffered a knee injury and was unable to return to the game. We better all pray it’s nothing serious because Paschal has been all over the place these first three games. He is the heart of that defense and its best player right now. Let’s hope for nothing serious and a quick recovery.
The defense came to play
Now that’s what I’m talking about! This is the defense we all expected coming into this season—the one we all had grown to love and others had grown to respect.
After establishing itself as one of the best defenses in the country last season, especially in the passing game, the Cats got off to a dreadfully painful start this season.
Kentucky’s first two opponents put up a combined 71 points, while the opposing quarterbacks threw for a combined 533 yards on 40/56 passing to go along with 8 touchdowns. Now that was not the defense we had all grown to love.
But Saturday night’s was. Kentucky game-planned perfectly for State’s air raid. The Bulldogs love the chuck the ball deep, but UK forced them to keep throw ball underneath time and time again. Oh, and Kentucky made the big tackles in the open field to limit the damage.
The Cats played horribly on offense, so this game wouldn’t have even been close if it wasn’t for the excellent play by the defense. Defense won the game.
All in all, it was a great performance and a great bounceback for a reeling defensive unit.
Kentucky got its first takeaway of the season (and second, and third, and fou...)
A big issue coming into Saturday night’s game was that Kentucky hadn’t taken the ball away from its opponent one time this season. Zero forced turnovers in two games is just unacceptable, especially with the way the defense was struggling to get off the field.
Well, that changed against the Bulldogs when Josh Paschal had a huge interception to halt a big MSU drive before the half. Not only that, but Paschal almost returned the interception for a touchdown, getting tackled at the two-yard line after a 76-yard return.
They picked up their second takeaway on an interception by Chris Oats representative, Jamin Davis, in the end zone as time expired in the first half. It was another huge play when Kentucky was backed up against the wall.
First-half INTs— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 11, 2020
Defense making plays @jamindavis25 @JPaschalx pic.twitter.com/QlZdQjPJNt
Their third takeaway came early in the second half when Kelvin Joseph recorded the first pick of his young career. In the fourth quarter, Boogie Watson made a huge interception at the goal line as MSU tried to cut Kentucky’s lead to one score.
Finally, and just for good measure, Jordan Wright picked off another pass and returned it eight yards for a touchdown! (Also, just want to say that he should be playing A LOT more)
Kentucky’s six interceptions ensured the Bulldogs never had a chance in this one.
Takeaways are huge for a defense. They can completely flip the momentum in a game, just like they did multiple times here. We missed them in the first two games but more than made up for it on Saturday. Here’s to getting some more of those...because that was fun.
Chris Rodriguez should be the guy going forward
Listen, I’ve always liked AJ Rose—more than most. I love Kavosiey Smoke’s explosiveness and big play ability. But Rodriguez has to be the guy going forward.
Rose continues to make mistake after mistake, costly mistakes at that. After the peace sign mess last week to go along with a questionable goal-line fumble, he fumbled today when UK had a chance to put a dagger in MSU early in the second half. He’s a redshirt senior that continues to hurt his team in rookie ways.
Meanwhile, Smoke’s talent is unreal. He can break a run at any time. His biggest issue is his durability. Smoke has struggled to stay on the field or to handle a larger amount of carries. Whether it be concussion issues like last season or the rib contusion this season, something’s usually wrong. And that sucks because he’s a really, really good player.
Finally, we have baby Benny Snell aka Chris Rodriguez. He isn’t the fastest, but he will punish defenders while running the ball down the opposing team’s throat. He had fumble issues very early on in his career, but now, he’s earned the right to be Kentucky’s starting and go-to running back.
It was a poor offensive night but one in which Kentucky dominated on defense. Five interceptions more than made up for UK’s zero takeaway start to the season.
If the offense can regain its footing, then we can finally see the full potential of this extremely talented team. And if this defense keeps showing out like it did tonight, watch out.
Good win. Great defensive performance.