One week away from kickoff we revisit quite possibly the most important game in the Mark Stoops era. On an October Saturday night, Kentucky took on Mississippi State in a back and forth game with a lot more than pride on the line.
No. 7: Kentucky 40, Mississippi State 38- October 22, 2016
It was a rough start to 2016 for Mark Stoops. After dropping the home opener and getting blown out by Florida in the Swamp, Stoops was on the hottest seat in all of college football. But, with newfound freshman running back Benny Snell emerging and Stephen Johnson playing well, maybe Kentucky could salvage the season after all.
Sitting at 3-3 with a bowl game and Stoops’ career hanging in the balance, it was all or nothing for the Cats.
A Third Quarter to Remember
In the first half, Kentucky’s offense struggled mightily. Only scoring six points, and down by eight Kentucky needed to respond quickly.
Only three plays into the second half, the Cats got on the board with a familiar trick play.
A 44-yard double-reverse pass from Stephen Johnson to Jeff Badet that was reminiscent of the trick play ran against South Carolina two years ago that ignited a Kentucky team back in 2014 and this time as well.
Kentucky would fail the two-point conversion and Mississippi State would put kick a field goal on their next possession to make it a five-point affair.
Then, after Jeff Badet had a 39-yard kick return Kentucky’s rushing attack took over a 6-play drive, capped off by a 34-yard touchdown run by freshman Benny Snell giving Kentucky their first lead of the game.
On the ensuing drive, Stephen Johnson launched a 40-yard shot to the end zone to Jeff Badet in one-on-one coverage and Jeff climbed that ladder and snagged the ball over the Bulldog defender to give Kentucky back the lead and the momentum.
To cap it all off, on the first play of the fourth Marcus McWilison picked off Nick Fitzgerald and took it to the house to give Kentucky 28 points in just 16 minutes. This gave Kentucky a 34-24 lead, coming back all the way down from 14-3.
Jeff Badet Becomes WR1
Stephen Johnson almost threw for 300 yards, but that wouldn’t have been without Jeff Badet. Badet became the first option for Stephen Johnson for their only year together in the blue and white and that started with the Mississippi State game.
Badet went for a career day hauling in seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Three of those seven catches are often overlooked in the history of important plays in the Mark Stoops era, but all three were supercritical in Kentucky’s victory over Mississippi State in 2016.
The first one came on the aforementioned 44-yard trick play that sparked a struggling Kentucky offense for their first touchdown of the game in the second half.
The second came with Kentucky trailing late in the third quarter. Stephen Johnson launched a 40-yard shot to the end zone to Jeff Badet in one-on-one coverage. Badet climbed that ladder and snagged the ball over the Bulldog defender to give Kentucky back the lead and the momentum.
The final one would come as the last offensive play of the game for the Cats. Kentucky needed to get in field goal range against a Mississippi State prevent defense that guarded the sidelines, Stephen Johnson found Jeff Badet in the middle of the field. Badet got the ball 18-yards downfield putting Kentucky in field goal range and smartly slid down preserving three seconds on the clock.
Down one with three seconds to go on the 33, that set up for…
This might be the most important play in the history of the Mark Stoops era. After MacGinnis missed his first attempt from 28-yards, Stoops trotted him out there to sink three more crucial field goals (46, 32, 32) to keep Kentucky in it.
For the finale, down by one, Austin MacGinnis set up from 51-yards out.
It was the first and only time in school history that a Kentucky kicker hit a game-winning field goal as time expired.
This game was apart of Kentucky winning five out six en route to their first bowl appearance in six years.
In hindsight, Austin MaCginnis’ kick meant much more than just a victory over 2-5 Mississippi State. It ensured Mark Stoops would stay in Lexington, and since that kick, Kentucky’s program took off. That’s partly why this game fell at number seven.
Even though it was amongst the most important games on this list, this game was a launching pad for many other victories that we will revisit this week before Kentucky takes on Toledo.
Check out the other games in our countdown to kickoff series:
No. 8: Stephen soars over Rocky Top (Kentucky 29, Tennesee 26- October 28, 2017)
No. 9: Tounges out in the sandstorm (Kentucky 23, South Carolina 13- September 16, 2017)
No. 10: The first road victory (Kentucky 26, South Carolina 22- September 12, 2015)