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Kentucky Football

Kentucky Defense Stifles Mike Leach's Air Raid

October 10, 2020

Kentucky needed a get-right game tonight, and that’s what they got on the defensive side of the ball. An offensive slog, the final was 24-2 with Mississippi State’s only points coming off a safety thanks to a bad snap on a Kentucky punt. The Cats registered six interceptions combined against Bulldog quarterbacks KJ Costello and Will Rogers.

After two weeks of bad defense, the Cats came to play tonight, giving up 295 total yards including 20 rush yards on 14 attempts. The six interceptions for the Cats were split among position groups, with Kelvin Joseph coming up with the only pick for the secondary while the linebackers registered four. The defensive line also came up with one thanks to an almost-pick six from Joshua Paschal, whose 76 yard return took the ball down to the two yard line. Tackling was better across the board with better discipline and swarming to the ball. 

The offense struggled after two solid weeks as Terry Wilson threw for just 73 yards and one touchdown. He completed just eight of 20 passes with several of those incompletions coming on drops by a receiving corps that failed to get going.  The offense, did, however, clean up the turnovers. The Cats’ only turnover of the night came on a fumble by AJ Rose, who still needs to work on some ball security. Chris Rodriguez put in some hard running, totaling 38 yards on 7 carries on a night that the Cats had just 157 total offensive yards. 

Max Duffy was special all night, averaging 44.7 yards on 8 punts. Between his kicking and the interceptions on defense, Kentucky won field position all night, propeling them to the win despite losing time of possession 34:49 to 25:11. Kentucky was 3-3 on red zone possessions while Mississippi State, of course, was 0-3.


First Quarter

Kentucky received the opening kickoff and found some yards on the ground to start before a toss from Terry Wilson to Josh Ali picked up 17 yards. The Wildcat offense stalled after that, bringing up 4th and 4 just into Mississippi State territory. After trying to draw off the Bulldog defense the Cats took a delay of game and punted, pinning the Bulldogs at their own five yard line.

The defense pinned their ears back, and after Mississippi State was immediately called for a false start, allowed the Bulldogs to get back out only to their four yard line before forcing a punt. The possession was a good one for a Kentucky defense that’s struggled early this season.

Kentucky’s offense couldn’t take advantage of the field position, starting their drive on the Mississippi State 46 yard line. The drive started with a nine yard run from Terry Wilson but two dropped passes doomed the drive, and Kentucky only netted nine yards on the drive before punting back to the Bulldogs.

When the Bulldog offense came back out, KJ Costello went to the air four straight plays, picking up a few yards at a time before their second false start in as many drives stopped any rhythm they had found. Costello’s fifth straight pass attempt on 3rd and 7 fell incomplete and the Bulldogs had to punt back to the Cats. Mississippi State’s punter Tucker Day booted a 65 yard punt and Kentucky started on their own 11 yard line.

Kentucky couldn’t escape early penalty troubles of their own as Landon Young was called for a false start, backing the offense up to their own six yard line. Wilson threw out to Josh Ali, who was immediately hit and couldn’t hold onto the ball. It bounced back into the end zone where Allen Dailey recovered. The officials initially ruled the play as a catch and fumble resulting in a Mississippi State safety, but after a review the ruling was reversed. The catch was ruled incomplete but the Cats failed to overcome getting behind the chains and punted. 

The Bulldogs took possession on their own 38 yard line. Mississippi State mostly kept to the air with Costello completing his first five pass attempts on the drive. The run game complemented the passing with a few short runs by Kylin Hill as the Bulldogs moved down the field to the Kentucky 33. Their third false start of the game pushed them out to the 38, and after an incomplete pass on 3rd and 18 Mississippi State brought out the field goal unit. Brandon Ruiz’s 56 yard try was short, giving the Cats favorable field position yet again.


Second Quarter

Chris Rodriguez took the first carry of the drive for only three yards, and a sack of Terry WIlson for a loss of six yards brought up 3rd and 13. Terry Wilson found room up the middle and into the secondary, taking off for a gain of 51 yards down to the Mississippi State 14 yard line with a fresh set of downs. After a two yard pickup by AJ Rose Wilson took to the air, connecting with Keaton Upshaw in the end zone for a 12 yard touchdown. Ruffolo’s extra point was good and Kentucky took a 7-0 lead.

KJ Costello came out of the gate throwing again, with two completions followed by a run for nine yards. Costello went back to the air and continued to find success but the Bulldog offense was backed up thanks to a personal foul on the Mississippi State offensive line. Facing 2nd and 27, Costello completed two passes but wasn’t able to convert and the Bulldogs punted again.

Kentucky’s offense failed to find a rhythm on their ensuing drive, going three-and-out and punting back to the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State stayed with the passing game with four straight completions that ended with a personal foul on Brandin Echols that gave the Bulldogs a free fifteen yards. Now on Kentucky’s 15 yard line, the Costello pulled the ball and rushed for five yards before going back to the passing game. Josh Paschal read the play perfectly and jumped in front of the ball, grabbing the interception and returning it 76 yards to the Bulldog two yard line. 

Kentucky’s offense came out briefly as Chris Rodriguez took the carry on first down and bulldozed into the end zone, pulling Kentucky ahead 14-0.

Mississippi State took the ball back with 3:48 left in the half and began working their way down the field, once again under the arm of Costello. Kentucky forced a 4th and 1 at their own 38 yard line but Kylin Hill picked up three yards to keep the drive alive. The Bulldogs kept pushing down the field, reaching Kentucky’s four yard line with seconds left in the half. Costello threw on 2nd and goal and Jamin Davis came up with the interception to shut the Bulldogs out in the first half.


Third Quarter

Mississippi State got the ball to start the second half and the Kentucky defense stood strong, forcing 4th and one right out of the gate. Mississippi State’s offense stayed on the field, and Costello threw down the field, possibly thinking Kentucky would be called for offsides. The pass was incomplete and Kentucky took over on Mississippi State’s 34 yard line.

Kentucky’s first drive of the second half was brought to an abrupt end when AJ Rose, who had picked up six yards on first down, fumbled on the next play and gave the ball right back to the Bulldogs.

Costello threw on every play of the drive, completing his first three attempts all to Kylin Hill before an incompletion brought up 3rd and seven. His throw down the left sideline never had a chance with both Kelvin Joseph and DeAndre Square in coverage, and Joseph came up with Kentucky’s third interception of the night off Costello.

Kentucky’s offense failed to get going again, netting -2 yards on a three-and-out before Duffy punted back to Mississippi State.

While the Wildcat offense struggled to get anything going, the defense kept coming up big, putting together the performance everyone’s been looking for. The Cats gave up two yards to Mississippi State before forcing another punt, giving the offense another chance to get something going.

Terry Wilson opened with a nice completion to Brenden Bates for 14 yards, and Chris Rodriguez followed it up with a 12 yard pickup on the ground. The drive fizzled after those two opening plays and Kentucky only picked up two more yards before being forced to punt. The long snap was high, sailing over Duffy’s head and all the way down to the end zone. Duffy kicked the ball out the back of the end zone for a safety, putting Mississippi State on the board. On the ensuing free kick, Duffy crushed the kick, sending it 78 yards to completely flip the field. The Bulldogs brought the ball out to the 16 yard line to start their drive.

After KJ Costello’s struggles behind center, the Bulldogs went to Will Rogers at quarterback. He threw on the first four plays of the drive, all complete, before throwing an incompletion on third down, and the Bulldogs punted once again. Tucker Day sent this one 66 yards, adding to a tremendous night in which both punters were absolute stars for their teams.

Kentucky’s drive lasted only a few minutes as Wilson rushed for one yard before two incompletions brought up another punt. Duffy punted from in his own end zone and Mississippi State put together a 17 yard return, starting their drive at Kentucky’s 41 yard line. 

Rogers went straight to the air, completing three out of four passes before the end of the quarter that brought the Bulldogs to Kentucly’s 23 yard line. One more completion brought them to the 18 yard line before Boogie Watson came in for the interception, bringing a quick end to Mississippi State’s red zone possession and registering the Wildcats’ fourth pick of the night.


Fourth Quarter

Kentucky’s lacklustre offense continued to struggle, once again failing to pick up a first down. The Cats punted on 4th and 20 after a big sack on Wilson. 

One first down for Mississippi State Rogers missed Kylin Hill, and the Bulldogs went back to KJ Costello, who couldn’t find anything either. After two incompletions the Bulldogs punted back to Kentucky.

The Cats finally found a little offense when they came back out. After a two yard rush from AJ Rose, Terry Wilson connected on consecutive passes to Josh Ali and Justin Rigg. Rodriguez came in and ripped off a 10 yard run, taking the Cats into Mississippi State territory. Kentucky ran out of steam then and faced 4th and 4 on the Mississippi State 40 yard line. After trying to draw the defense off they took a delay of game and punted. Duffy kicked straight into the corner and Kentucky downed the punt at the two yard line. 

KJ Costello came out for the drive, throwing two incompletions before his third pass attempt was intercepted by Jordan Wright on the eight yard line. Wright returned the pick for a touchdown, giving Kentucky their fifth interception of the night and a 21-2 lead.

KJ Costello stayed in at quarterback, throwing on five of the first six plays of the drive. Mississippi State moved out to the 50 yard line before a sack by Jordan Wright on third down brought up 4th and 11. The Bulldogs went for it and the Wildcats brought the heat, sacking Costello for the second straight play, this one going to Boogie Watson. Kentucky took over on the Mississippi State 39 yard line.

With just 3:19 left in the game, Kentucky brought in backups with Joey Gatewood at quarterback and Jutahn McClain at running back. The first play was a handoff to McClain who burst up the right side for a gain of 17 yards. Joey Gatewood kept the ball on the next play but was dropped for a loss of two before failing to connect with Clevan Thomas on 2nd down. On 3rd and 12 Gatewood rushed for seven yards, setting up a 35 yard field goal. Ruffolo’s kick was good and Kentucky extended their lead to 24-2.

Mississippi State came back on the field with 49 seconds remaining, with Will Rogers in at quarterback and still sticking with the pass. A completion for four yards followed by an incompletion brought up 3rd and 6, and Rogers’ throw over the middle was intercepted by linebacker D’Eryk Jackson for Kentucky’s sixth pick of the night as the clock ran out.


Kentucky travels to Knoxville next weekend for a showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers, who fell 44-21 to the Georgia Bulldogs earlier today.


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Kentucky Defense Stifles Mike Leach's Air Raid

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