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Kentucky beats NC State to win Gator Bowl: 6 things to know and postgame banter

Great way to start 2021!

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - North Carolina State v Kentucky Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats knocked off the No. 23-ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack on Saturday afternoon by a score of 23-21.

Kentucky came out aggressive and ready to play as they took nine minutes off the clock during the opening drive on their way to a nine play, 68-yard drive that ended in three points.

The defense, meanwhile, stood its ground as it held the Wolfpack scoreless in the first half for the first time this season, as UK took a 13-0 lead into the break.

After the half, Kentucky’s offense stalled and NC State finally caught a few breaks to get on the board. However, the Cats forced a turnover and punched it in one last time when it mattered.

And that’s the end of the 2020 football season for the Cats. It was filled with ups and downs, but what a great way to start the New Year!

The Big Dogfense

After Eddie Gran was relieved of his duties at the end of the regular season, Vince Marrow was put in charge of playcalling for the bowl game.

It was a lot of the same, which shouldn’t be a surprise. The Cats couldn’t install a new offensive scheme with less than a month between the end of the season and this game. So, it’s likely that the Big Dog was using Gran’s plays.

Of course, that meant the offense was boring and predictable, as usual. However, there should be hope that next year and the years to come will be different with Liam Coen coming in from the Los Angeles Rams.

Defensive battle

We all know how good Kentucky’s defense has been this year, but NC State’s defense is solid, too.

Kentucky held the Wolfpack scoreless in the first half for the first time this season. On the other side, State held Kentucky to just 13 points in the first half on three scoring opportunities. Sure, the Cats marched the ball down the field, but State is very good at holding opposing offenses to field goals.

This game was a defensive battle through and through.

Domination on the ground

The Cats did whatever they wanted on the ground today while State couldn’t get anything going.

AJ Rose had over 100 yards in the first half on just eight carries. Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez pounded the rock down the field. Thank goodness because Terry Wilson struggled in both phases today.

The Wolfpack interestingly attacked UK through the air all game. With how good Kentucky’s secondary has been this season, it was a perplexing move. They’ve had success on the ground this year but didn’t really test UK.

Penalties were killer

Okay, well that was interesting. You couldn’t look away from the TV screen without missing another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Kentucky was incredibly undisciplined today and it almost cost them the game. The announcers took specific notice of UK’s inability to control its players.

That’s definitely something we should work on for the future. 10 penalties for 103 yards is way too much.

Please let Davis return for another year

Jamin Davis was the breakout player of the year for this Kentucky team, and now, we have to just hope he returns for his senior season.

After putting together another impressive showing today with double digit tackles and a huge interception with less than four minutes to play, Davis looks like he’s getting better each and every week.

He’s Kentucky’s leading tackler and one of the best linebackers in the country. His draft stock isn’t too solid right now, as he’d likely be looking at a late round selection at best. One more full season dominating the SEC should do wonders for him.

Hopefully, the staff can convince him of a Josh Allen-type rise from junior to senior year.

Valentine is going to be a star

Kelvin Joseph opted out. Cedrick Dort was a late scratch. And in came Carrington Valentine.

Valentine is a true freshman—one of UK’s lowest rated players in the entire class. He’s clearly already outplaying his ranking. He’s been a solid contributor so far this season, but he was truly thrust into full-time action today. And he took advantage.

Valentine has big shoes to fill, but he seems more than capable. He was impressive in his first start and I only expect he’ll get better and better.

Well, that’s all folks. Go Cats!