What went wrong in Kentucky’s losses


Kentucky tight end Justin Rigg (83) is tackled by a group of Tennessee defenders after catching a pass during the UK vs. Tennessee football game on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Tennessee won 45-42. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

For the fifth time since 1949 and the second time in four seasons, Kentucky football has won at least nine games in a single season. What that also means is Kentucky dropped three games over the course of the 2021 season.

As Kentucky and the rest of the college football world await bowl selections on Dec. 5, there’s no better time to look back on how Kentucky lost those three consecutive games.


At the time, Georgia, who finished the regular season undefeated as the No. 1 team in the nation, had only allowed two offensive touchdowns coming into their matchup against Kentucky. Thanks to UK quarterback Will Levis, that number was doubled after the game.

The positives end there, however. 

Kentucky was held to just 51 rushing yards on 27 attempts (1.9 yards per rush). Offensive coordinator Liam Coen was forced to throw the ball for the majority of the second half; Levis ended the match up throwing 32-42 for 192 yards with two scores. Compare that to Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett’s 250 passing yards on 14-20 attempts through the air and three touchdowns.

Georgia recorded three sacks and eight tackles for loss as well. With Georgia’s defense being one of, if not the best pass rushing defenses in the nation this season, Levis had no time in the pocket to read through his progressions and make plays down the field. 

Mississippi State

Kentucky led the Bulldogs 10-0 halfway through the first quarter, thanks to a Matt Ruffolo field goal and a 74-yard Josh Ali punt return touchdown. It was all downhill from there. Mississippi State outscored the Wildcats 31-7 for the remainder of the night.

Bulldog quarterback Will Rogers completed 92% (36-39) of his passes for 344 yards and one score against the Wildcats — an SEC record on 30-plus passing attempts. Bulldog head coach Mike Leach went away from his typical Air Raid scheme near the goal line, replaced by Jo’Quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson’s three combined touchdowns, which Kentucky struggled to defend all game long.

Overall, Kentucky was out-gained 438-216 yards and relegated to under 100 yards rushing for the second game in a row.


Kentucky’s offense could do no wrong against its rivals in Tennessee. Putting up 42 points and 612 total offensive yards, the stat sheet implies that Kentucky took home the victory. Thanks to its defensive play, however, Tennessee took advantage of one-on-one matchups and made the Kentucky secondary pay more than once.

Volunteer quarterback Hendon Hooker completed 15 of his 20 passing attempts for 316 yards for four touchdowns. Tennessee had three receivers with over 75 yards on the night (Venus Jones Jr, Cedric Tillman and Javonta Payton) while they rushed for 145 more and another score.

Kentucky held the ball for over 46 minutes, running 99 plays on the night while Tennessee was held to 13:52 minutes of possession on just 47 plays. Tennessee’s offensive efficiency played to its advantage, which caused Kentucky to play catch-up the entire ball game.