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3 risers and 4 fallers in ugly loss to Mississippi State

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Another Halloween massacre in Starkville

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

After rolling to its best start in school history, Coach Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats have now lost two straight, falling to Mississippi State 31-17 on Saturday night in Starkville.

The Wildcats lost to No. 1-ranked Georgia on October 16th, had a bye week, and then had absolutely no answer for the Bulldogs’ Air Raid offense as quarterback Will Rogers torched the Kentucky defense with one of the best performances in SEC history.

Liam Coen’s offense never had a chance against an outstanding Mississippi State defense that forced four turnovers - three interceptions by quarterback Will Levis and a fumble by Chris Rodriguez as the Bulldogs scored 24 unanswered points to drop the Wildcats to 6-2 overall, 4-2 in the SEC.

The 12th-ranked Wildcats jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a 74-yard punt return by Josh Ali in the first quarter and extended the lead on a 41-yard field goal by Matt Ruffalo. But special teams proved to be Kentucky’s only offense as the Wildcats finished with just 216 total yards.

To make matters worse, the Wildcats defense had no answer for Rogers who finished 36 for 39 for 344 yards for a 92 percent completion rate. The Bulldogs finished with 438 yards in total offense. Stoops, in his ninth season, is now 0-5 at Davis Wade Stadium with Kentucky’s last win in Starkville coming in 2008.

Here’s a look at which players improved their stock, and who took a step back with just four games left in the regular season. Kentucky hosts Tennessee next week at Kroger Field.

Risers

Josh Ali: Returning from injury, Ali made his presence known early after getting the Wildcats on the board first with an electric punt return that proved to be the lone highlight of the game. It was the first punt return since Lynn Bowden ran one back in the Citrus Bowl against Penn State in 2019.

Wan’Dale Robinson: Despite an ineffective passing attack, Robinson still proved to be a bright spot, making some key catches and putting Kentucky in the red zone with opportunities to score. He simply needs more touches, even if that means moving him in the backfield on key possessions. Robinson finished with nine catches for 79 yards.

Special Teams: A punt return, a made field goal, and a solid performance by punter Colin Goodfellow, the only player in UK history to have two career punts of at least 70 yards, was a positive to build on as the kicking game struggled early in the season.

Fallers

Chris Rodriguez: The SEC’s leading rusher did not start on Saturday night and only had three carries in the first half with two of those resulting in fumbles, although one was recovered and the other was whistled as a dead ball as he made contract with the ground. Rodriguez finished with 34 yards on eight carries and did cough up a fumble that led to a Mississippi State score as ball control continues to be his most glaring weakness.

Will Levis: Levis has been inconsistent of late, playing his best game in a win against LSU, and then throwing three interceptions and making some questionable decisions out of the pocket against the Bulldogs. He finally settled down and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to DeMarcus Harris in the fourth quarter, but the Penn State transfer was part of an offense that simply could not generate any momentum as he finished 17 of 28 for 150 yards.

Liam Coen (Offense): The Honeymoon may be over for first-year assistant coach Liam Coen, who has been praised for his creativity and innovative play calling. The Mississippi State defense simply owned Coen and company as the run game, Kentucky’s bread and butter, struggled to get going while the passing game had limited options. The offense is now in desperate need of a makeover with four games remaining in the regular season.

Brad White (Defense): Mike Leach and the Air Raid offense was just too much for a Kentucky defense that’s been hit by the injury bug and failed to put enough pressure on Rogers who set the SEC single game completion percentage record (92.3%). A lack of depth is starting to rear its ugly head and the Wildcats will have to regroup if it hopes to run the table and finish at 10-2 before heading to a Bowl Game.