Despite the Wolfpack being 8-3 and ranked No. 23 in the nation, the Cats opened as a 2.5-point favorite heading into the matchup.
The Cats received the ball to start this once giving us our first look at an offense with Vince Marrow calling the plays.
Kentucky put together a nine-minute, 16 play drive that went 68-yards and ended in a field goal, giving the Cats a 3-0 lead.
The Kentucky defense has been excellent at forcing turnovers this season and that started again early as Brandin Echols got an early INT.
That Kentucky drive ended on downs followed by the teams exchanging three straight punts.
However, the Cats were able to get the run game going as they drive 79-yards in 6 plays capped off by a Chris Rodriguez four-yard touchdown run making it 10-0.
Kentucky got the ball back with just over a minute to go in the half and had a TD pass with six seconds remaining called back for an illegal formation.
After settling for a FG, the Cats were able to take a 13-0 lead into halftime.
NC State received the ball to start the second half and drove into FG range but for the second time it was missed keeping it 13-0.
After a Kentucky punt, the Wolfpack drove 76-yards in 13 plays to find the end zone and make it a 13-7 game heading into the 4th quarter.
After a NC State punt, the Cats had excellent field position but unfortunately had to punt themselves.
However, on the first play after the punt Yusuf Corker made a great play and got Kentucky’s second INT of the day.
The offense responded with a seven-play drive that resulted in three points, making this a two-score game at 16-7 with just under six minutes to play.
On the kickoff, the Cats were called for two separate unsportsmanlike conduct penalties giving NC State great field position.
They took advantage of that scoring in three plays to make it 16-14 with 4:46 to go.
Kentucky’s offense went three-and-out, but once again Kentucky’s defense saved the day as Jamin Davis got the third interception of the day off a deflection.
On the very next play, Chris Rodriguez takes it 26-yards to the house to make it 23-14 Cats.
NC State was able to drive down the field and find the end zone to make it 23-21. However, the Cats recovered the onside kick and kneeled out the clock to win their 3rd straight bowl game.
This was a great way to kick off 2021 while also ending the 2020 season on a high note given all the adversity Kentucky faced throughout the year.
Here is how Twitter reacted to the game:
Drake Jackson wearing No. 65 in honor of John Schlarman today.— Jon Hale (@JonHale_CJ) January 2, 2021
Cedrick Dort, who is not playing because he hasn't been medically cleared to participate, is wearing Chris Oats' No. 22 jersey on the sideline.
Vince Marrow’s “Big Dogfense” clearly upping the tempo to a faster pace— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) January 2, 2021
Hell of an effort by Chris Rodriguez.— Shawn Smith (@gbbcountry) January 2, 2021
Would have loved 7 there. But really, a good way to start this game.— All Things Kentucky (@BBNWonka) January 2, 2021
Josh Paschal was a step away from a sack, but a Brandin Echols interception will have to do.— Dale Saltwater (@RoushKSR) January 2, 2021
Great time for your first career INT. Looked like classic Cover 2 bait.— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) January 2, 2021
Kentucky has been very good at takeaways this season and it continues today— Round Daddy (@JStreble82) January 2, 2021
Bohanna went for a jog with the QB after the pick. Wonder if he said anything. pic.twitter.com/d11IDsXDFM— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) January 2, 2021
Mark Stoops’ defense is so good.— Dalton Jones ® (@DaltonJJones19) January 2, 2021
Holy hell. Duffy is the GOAT— All Things Kentucky (@BBNWonka) January 2, 2021
Chris Rodriguez runs hard as hell.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) January 2, 2021
Kentucky is gonna have to get more pressure on Hockman than this— Justin Rowland (@RowlandRIVALS) January 2, 2021
NC State comes up short on 40-yard FG. May have been blocked by UK's Ajian.— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) January 2, 2021
Yessir Keaton!! LFG!!— Kash Daniel (@KashDaniel15) January 2, 2021
Well Kentucky should have got the touchdown but be honest, who thought Cats would drive 69 yards in 7 plays in 1:21 to even get in scoring position.— Vaughts' Views (@vaughtsviews) January 2, 2021
13-0 at halftime not all that bad
Kentucky could (and should) be up 21-0 at halftime, but a few missed opportunities in the red zone keeps it at 13-0 for the Wildcats. Dominant effort on both sides of the football.— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) January 2, 2021
Could start to see the physicality wearing out NC State in the second half. Let C-Rod eat.
Funny reaction from Brandin Echols after that (stupid) push.— Josh Moore (@JoshMooreHL) January 2, 2021
Raise your hand if you’re still laughing about Brandin Echols playing dead— Maggie Davis (@MaggieDavisTV) January 2, 2021
♀️ ♀️ ♀️
I just don't understand it these unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. You've never seen these guys before and you're never going to see them again. You have no history. Just play.— Chris Fisher (@ChrisFisher247) January 2, 2021
Just an incredible throw and catch. Nothing UK did wrong defensively— All Things Kentucky (@BBNWonka) January 2, 2021
This has been an ugly game by all accounts.— Freddie Maggard (@FredMaggard606) January 2, 2021
What in the hell is going on?— Shawn Smith (@gbbcountry) January 2, 2021
I am glad that wasn’t called a Fumble. But that was quite a mistake by Drake— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) January 2, 2021
The string of terrible 3rd Quarters this season continues
Monstrous stop by UK. Had to have that to slow NC State momentum.— Freddie Maggard (@FredMaggard606) January 2, 2021
Kentucky fans: "What are you guys doing?!"— Justin Rowland (@RowlandRIVALS) January 2, 2021
NC State fans: "What are you guys doing?!"
That was very bad offensive play calling.— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) January 2, 2021
We are trying as hard as we possibly can to lose this game.— Guy on the Corner (@GOTCTickets) January 2, 2021
Don't need to score if you keep intercepting passes, I suppose.— Josh Moore (@JoshMooreHL) January 2, 2021
Corker with a huge INT for the Cats. Big time bail out by the Kentucky defense once again.— ESPN Radio Lexington (@ESPNRadioLex) January 2, 2021
These officials are awful.— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) January 2, 2021
The clock is fine, guys.— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) January 2, 2021
AJ Rose’s final game as a wildcat has been a memorable one.— All Things Kentucky (@BBNWonka) January 2, 2021
Wondering now if these crews were instructed to call so many of these unsportsmanlike fouls after the Tulsa-Miss.State brawl.— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) January 2, 2021
They throwing it like our secondary not like that— J Ł Ø V Ê ♠️ (@Jordan_Lovett1) January 2, 2021
I hope everyone is enjoying the TaxSlayer Referee Bowl.— Dale Saltwater (@RoushKSR) January 2, 2021
Not sure I've ever seen anything like that before. Just unbelievably undisciplined play (and actions) across the board.— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) January 2, 2021
UK has had so many opportunities to put this game away.
Jamin Davis bails them out. He's been amazing all season.— Round Daddy (@JStreble82) January 2, 2021
JAMIN. FREAKING. DAVIS.— Tres Terrell (@TerrellTres) January 2, 2021
Chris Rodriguez. Ballgame.— TheCatsPause247 (@TheCatsPause247) January 2, 2021
From heartache and hardships to triumph and tragedy, this @UKFootball season had a little bit of everything.— Maggie Davis (@MaggieDavisTV) January 2, 2021
Here’s my look back at 2020's hurdles and the resilient team that continued to jump them, for @BBNTonight:pic.twitter.com/cZetYWgR23
This 4-6 joke of a team just beat an 8-3, 23rd ranked team to win its 3rd straight bowl game. https://t.co/c7QKM1ITv6— Freddie Maggard (@FredMaggard606) January 2, 2021
Kentucky is going to finish 3rd nationally in interceptions this season with 16. Only Indiana (17) and Georgia Southern (18) had more.— TheCatsPause247 (@TheCatsPause247) January 2, 2021
The nation talks about teams like kentucky in the SEC all year... one dimensional and still beats a ranked ACC opponent .— Josh Clemons (@J_Clem21) January 2, 2021
Hard not to be happy for Kentucky's football program today. I cannot think of a group that's experienced as much heavy, heartbreaking stuff without even taking the pandemic into account. To end this often miserable season with a Gator Bowl celebration is pretty cool for them.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) January 2, 2021
We don’t lose bowl games— Lonnie Johnson jr. (@Lonnie30johnson) January 2, 2021
That’s for the Big Blue Nation. https://t.co/pKuPlGHOcz— CoachMarrowUK (@vincemarrow) January 2, 2021