‘They beat us in all phases.’ Kentucky upset 31-17 by Mississippi State


Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs the ball during the University of Kentucky vs. Florida football game on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 20-13. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

What a difference a year makes.

The Wildcats were dominated from the first quarter on, losing 31-17 against Mississippi State. Kentucky gave up 31-straight points between the second and third quarter, a complete turnaround from last season’s 24-2 offensive shutout by Kentucky.

“We had an opportunity to go ahead 10-0 and feel like you’re playing decent, and then the wheels come off with turnovers—not moving the ball and bad things happen and it’s how you react to it,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said post-game.  “We didn’t react to it very good.”

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis had three interceptions and the offense was only able to gain 216 yards compared to Mississippi State’s 438. Bulldog quarterback Will Rogers went 36-39 (92 percent) for 344 yards and one touchdown.

Levis took his shot to the end zone to Wan’Dale Robinson on the first drive of the game and payed for it. Shawn Preston under-cut the throw and came up with the interception. Mississippi State was forced to punt after a sack by Josaih Hayes, the first of his career.

Josh Ali missed the last two games with a leg injury. The veteran wide out was out to field the punt and for the first time all season for Kentucky, they took a punt return to the house as Ali found a seam, covering 74 yards to break the ice.

After a missed Bulldog field goal from 47 yards out, Kentucky answered with a field goal of their own on the next drive. Matt Ruffolo split the uprights from 41 and the Wildcats enjoyed a two-score lead with three minutes gone in the second quarter.

The enjoyment for Kentucky stopped there.

Mississippi State found their way on the scoreboard after an eight-play, 75 yard drive capped off by Jo’quavious Marks’ seven-yard rush midway through the second.

Rinse, repeat.

The Bulldogs drove down the field on a near identical drive after a Kentucky three and out. Dillon Johnson broke free from nine yards out and all of a sudden, Mississippi State was on top. 

Ironically, the Air Raid was responsible for two rushing touchdowns for the Bulldogs in the first half and they weren’t done yet.

Levis threw his second interception of the half at the Bulldog one-yard-line with nine seconds remaining, giving Mississippi State a four-point lead going into the locker room.

Saying Kentucky struggled in the first half is an understatement. At half, the Bulldogs were out-rushing the Wildcats 56-50 while Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers threw 17-19 for 160 yards. The Bulldogs would end up with 94 rushing yards on the night.

Mississippi State received the second half kickoff, spending the next 8:26 on a 14-play drive that ended with a field goal to push the lead to seven. Four penalties on the drive (two with goal-to-go) kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone to start the third.

A Rodriguez fumble deep inside Kentucky territory gave the Bulldogs excellent field position and two plays later, Mississippi State led 24-10 after Johnson’s second score of the night from a yard out.

“[Rodriguez Jr.] was dealing with something this week, but no excuses,” Stoops said about the running back’s performance. “I think that the fumble was a combination of things on that play; we got blown up and tackled or you know, pressure in the backfield and the handoff was a little high.”

One play later—interception.

Levis’ pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and picked by Cameron Young, once again setting the Bulldogs up with a short field and another touchdown. The score was good for their first through the air as Rogers connected with Rara Thomas from 25 yards out.

Levis kept the Kentucky hope alive with a 17-yard touchdown strike to DeMarcus Harris to cut the lead to 14 to start the final quarter.

Kentucky went three-and-out on their final possession before Mississippi State ran out the rest of the clock, handing Kentucky their second loss in a row.

“That’s not going to be our identity,” Stoops said about his team’s performance. “We’ll get back to work and get it fixed and make sure we get the right guys out on the field that want to continue to play like we [are supposed to] play.”

The Wildcats will be back in Lexington for the first time in three weeks next weekend against Tennessee at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.