In a season where it seems many things were a struggle for the Kentucky Wildcats, thankfully their Senior Night wasn’t one of those things, at least for most of the night.
Behind “The Big Blue Wall” offensive line, the Cats had their way with the undersized and outmanned South Carolina defense, ringing up 492 yards of offense in a 41-18 victory Saturday night at a chilly Kroger Field.
UK honored 19 seniors who have helped to change the culture of Kentucky football from an SEC afterthought to a competitive program capable of holding its own with its conference brethren.
When you consider the following accomplishments by this class, it’s easy to see the shift in the program this group has created:
- They have won 36 games, most in a five-season span since 2006-10.
- They have gone to four-straight bowl games, winning a Citrus Bowl and Belk Bowl.
- They have gotten victories over five ranked opponents.
- They have ended the 31-game losing streak to Florida and won at Tennessee for the first time since 1984.
The Cats (4-6) were led by senior quarterback Terry Wilson in the victory. Wilson had his best day of the 2020 season by far against USC, throwing for 201 yards on 17/26 passing. Wilson also had 46 yards rushing to take his career total to over 1,000 for his career.
UK also got big games from running backs Chris Rodriguez and AJ Rose. Rodriguez had a monster night with 139 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a 79-yard run that put the game away. Rose added 101 yards and a touchdown as well.
The Kentucky passing game, almost nonexistent for most of the season, finally came through in a big way. Eight receivers made catches, led by Josh Ali’s five receptions.
The UK defense survived a mammoth night from USC running back Kevin Harris, rushing for 210 yards and a score. Despite Harris’ heroics, the Cats turned the Gamecocks over four times, three on fumble recoveries by Jordan Wright and Kordell Looney, and an interception by Yusef Corker.
With the regular season concluding, UK will be making determinations of their postseason bowl prospects. Those announcements will be made at a later date. Although the Cats have a losing record at 4-6, the only requirement for schools to be eligible for bowl games is whether the program meets their graduation benchmarks, which UK did.
Currently, ESPN has the Cats projected to be in the Music City Bowl in Nashville against Big Ten foe Wisconsin. The bowl is set for December 30th.
Below is the game summary, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Information
Kentucky is 4-6 and South Carolina is 2-8, all within the Southeastern Conference.
South Carolina leads the series 18-13-1.
UK has won the last four meetings at Kroger Field, the first time in school history that UK has defeated USC four times in a row in Lexington.
UK honored 19 seniors during pregame ceremonies.
For players who are fifth-year seniors (since 2016), they have won 36 games (most in a five-season span since 2006-10), gone to four-straight bowl games, won a Citrus Bowl and Belk Bowl, got victories over five ranked opponents, ended the 31-game losing streak to Florida and won at Tennessee for the first time since 1984.
Kentucky won the regular-season finale for the third-straight year, the first time that has happened in 61 years, since 1957-59.
Kentucky won three Senior Day games in a row for the first since 2010-12.
This was UK’s fourth SEC win of the season, the fourth time in the last five years that the Wildcats have won at least four league games.
UK has won 20 SEC games over the last five years, most in any five-year period in school history.
This was Mark Stoops’ 48th win at Kentucky, moving into sole possession of second place of school history.
This was Kentucky’s largest margin of victory against an SEC opponent on Senior Day (23 points) since defeating Vanderbilt 55-17 in 1998.
This was the first time in Kroger Field history that UK had consecutive Senior Day wins by at least 23 points.
Kentucky has scored at least 34 points in the last three Senior Day games for the first time in school history.
Kentucky had 492 yards total offense, the team’s second-highest of the season.
Kentucky won the turnover battle 4-0, taking away three fumbles and an interception.
This is the third game this season UK has had at least four takeaways, the first time UK has accomplished that since 2008.
Kentucky had three-and-outs on offense tonight.
· Senior wide receiver Josh Ali was team captain tonight.
· Senior quarterback Terry Wilson accounted for 247 yards of total offense tonight. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 201 yards while rushing 14 times for 46 yards and one touchdown.
He has 1,001 career rushing yards and became the 40th player in school history to reach 1,000 rushing yards.
First player in school history with at least 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.
He is the third quarterback in school history with at least 20 career passing touchdowns and 10 career rushing touchdowns, also Jared Lorenzen and Patrick Towles.
He is the fourth quarterback in school history to reach 1,000 rushing yards, also Derrick Ramsey, Mike Fanuzzi, and Lynn Bowden Jr.
Has 4,345 career yards total offense, moving into eighth place on the UK career list.
Wilson is now 16-8 as UK’s starting quarterback.
· Senior running back A.J. Rose rushed 14 times for 101 yards and one touchdown, the second 100-yard game of the season sixth 100-yard game of his career.
Rose now has 1,823 career rushing yards, moving past Anthony White, Derrick Ramsey, and Marc Logan for 10th place in school history.
· Sophomore running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushed 14 times for 139 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, his fourth 100-yard game of the season and sixth of his career.
He had a 79-yard touchdown run to clinch the game in the fourth quarter. It is the second-longest run against USC in school history and the fifth-longest run in school history against an SEC opponent.
He is the second player in school history, also Mark Higgs, to have two runs of at least 74 yards in the same season.
His 139 rushing yards is the second-most in school history against USC.
He has 1,281 career rushing yards, moving into 30th place in school history.
· Senior wide receiver Josh Ali led the team in receiving with five catches for 35 yards.
· Senior tight end Justin Rigg caught three passes for a career-high 79 yards.
· Junior safety Yusuf Corker had an interception in the second quarter, his first pickoff of the season and second of his career. He also had six tackles, including one-half tackle for loss, and had a pass breakup.
· Junior linebacker Jamin Davis made 10 tackles, his seventh double-figure game of the season.
He also had 1.5 tackles for loss.
· Junior linebacker Jordan Wright took the ball away from a South Carolina runner in the first quarter, his third fumble caused and recovery of his career. His recovery set up a touchdown drive.
In the second quarter, he recovered another fumble, setting up a field goal that ended the first half.
For the game, he totaled four tackles, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry to go along with his fumble plays.
· Senior linebacker Boogie Watson had eight tackles, including 2.5 for loss, and caused two fumbles.
He is the first UK player with at least eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two caused fumbles since Danny Trevathan at Georgia in 2011.
· Senior kicker Matt Ruffolo made all of his kicks tonight, field goals of 22 and 41 yards, along with all five extra points.
· Senior center Drake Jackson started his 43rd consecutive game tonight, tied for the third-longest streak in school history with starting lineups available since 1993.
· Senior offensive guard Luke Fortner wore jersey No. 65 in honor of offensive line coach John Schlarman, who died Nov. 12.
· True freshman defensive back Vito Tisdale made his first collegiate start.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports columnist from Speedwell, Tenn. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, local media outlets The Corbin Times-Tribune and London Sentinel-Echo, and online at A Sea of Blue, KySportsStyle.com Magazine, HarlanCountySports.com, and at Wildcat Sports Talk among others.