It wasn’t very pretty, but Kentucky is finally in the win column following a dominant performance against former UK offensive coordinator Mike Leach in his return to Lexington. The offense was ugly, but the defense put the clamps on Mississippi State’s pass happy offense limiting the Bulldogs to just 3.5 yards per play and without an offensive score throughout the entire game.
UK finally looked like the defense we all expected in the talking season and the Wildcats created six takeaways on their way to allowing zero offensive points in a comfortable win. As always, there were a few plays that made the difference in the ballgame and Kentucky was on the winning side of each.
1.) Wilson’s Legs Keep Scoring Drive Alive
After opening the game with a couple of nice drives that would eventually fizzle out, UK went three-and-out on their third possession and began to look a mess. On their fourth time with the ball, they faced a third-and-13 at their own 35 following a Mississippi State sack. UK needed to make something happen and their quarterback produced the biggest splash play in the game.
Some excellent pass protection gave Wilson plenty of time and the opportunity to run presented itself. On the scramble, Wilson was able to avoid a tackle from corner Emmanuel Forbes and that opened the flood gates. He got some nice blocks down the field from tight end Brenden Bates and wideout DeMarcus Harris helping setup the 51-yard chunk play.
Two plays later, Wilson found Keaton Upshaw in the endzone off of play-action and the Wildcats took a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the only play over 20 yards UK would get all night and it was important to end it with points. They did that by scoring a touchdown showing the offense was opportunistic despite a rough time for most of the game.
2.) Paschal’s Play Recognition
With just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Mississippi State had perhaps their best drive of the game going with second-and-5 set to take place just inside the red zone. The Bulldogs had marched 47 yards in five plays and were looking to tie the game before halftime arrived.
State goes to their very often used tunnel screen concept and nickel defender Davonte Robinson does a great job staying glued to the wide receiver’s outside hip so that a block by the inside receiver becomes very difficult. It is very likely that if the pass got there it would’ve been an incompletion that setup third down. However, UK’s star defensive end makes an excellent play.
Josh Paschal takes on the right tackle and immediately notices this is not a typical pass set due to the launch from the offensive lineman. Due to film study, he then knows that it is some type of wide receiver screen to the outside so he begins to float that way. He gets his eyes up just in time and the result is a near pick-six.
This play setup a touchdown just one snap later and allowed UK to secure a victory in the always important middle eight. It prevented a score and got Kentucky their first major red zone stop of the season. This was a game changer and the defense’s best player came away with the biggest play of the season.
3.) Boogie’s Robbery
As true freshman Will Rogers had replaced K.J. Costello, the Bulldogs got the ball on the UK 41 thanks to a short punt setup by bad field position for the Wildcats. It was another scoring opportunity for Mississippi State and in the red zone they had the ball on a second-and-five with a chance to make the it a one possession game at the beginning of the fourth quarter. UK’s defense found another way to make a key stop.
In a zone coverage drop, Watson does a great job of reading the quarterback. As he begins to move outside the pocket, there is only one wide receiver in the area. Watson then sprints in order to get in position to make the play. Due to play recognition, effort and a bit of an underthrow, the redshirt senior is able to wrestle the football away from the receiver resulting in State’s third red zone turnover of the game. The Bulldogs would never cross UK’s side of the field for the rest of the night.
It was an ugly night for Eddie Gran’s offense in the second half that got off to an awful start with A.J. Rose fumbling inside the Mississippi State’s 30 on their first possession after the break. The Wildcats had a success rate of just 22.2%, produced zero plays that went 20 yards and were just 1 of 7 on third downs. However, it was enough to win the football game comfortably thanks to an outstanding performance on defense.
UK got many, many timely red zone stops thanks to some turnovers and allowed zero points on four scoring opportunities. That side of the ball got back to their identity in the win. On the other side, Kentucky must get back to what they do well, but there are plenty of positive things to point at as they get set to play Tennessee for the 116th time. Let’s get it on.