Cats top Dogs to end three-game slide

Published 12:19 pm Monday, November 6, 2023

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Kentucky ended a three-game losing streak and became bowl eligible Saturday night.

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The Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) captured their first win in Starkville since 2008 and gave coach Mark Stoops his first road win over the Bulldogs with an 24-3 victory. The two teams had split their eight previous meetings with each team winning at home.

The end of the streak came at a crucial time for Kentucky, which became eligible for a postseason bowl berth for a school record eighth consecutive time.

Kentucky, which had given up 122 points in its previous three games, limited Mississippi State to just a field goal and 218 total yards.

“We did what we had to do to get a road win,” Stoops told the SEC Network’s Alyssa Lang following the game. “We needed a victory. We talked all week about get the victory by any means necessary. This was far from pretty but the defense did a heck of a job.”

For the second week in a row, Wildcats quarterback Devin Leary was on target and threw for 156 yards and a pair of touchdowns before leaving the game early in the fourth quarter after taking a hard hit on a sack in the second half. Backup signal caller Kaiya Sheron replaced Leary in the pocket and played the remainder of the contest.

After gaining most of its yardage in the air in a loss to Tennessee last week, Kentucky placed a renewed emphasis on the running game and gained 110 yards on the ground against the Bulldogs on the ground. Ray Davis paced the attack with 80 yards rushing on 21 carries. Five different receivers each had a catch for Kentucky, with Tayvion Robinson hauling in five passes for 91 yards.

Dane Key and Demie Karngbaye-Sumo each caught a touchdown pass from Leary. Overall the Wildcats finished with 271 total yards.

The Bulldogs (4-5, 1-5) were without veteran quarterback Will Rogers and running back Woody Marks, both of whom are nursing injuries.

The Cats also got another defensive score, the fourth so far this season, in the game. It came when senior linebacker D’Eryk Jackson picked off Mississippi State’s Mike Wright and scampered 28 yards untouched for a touchdown. That marked the 10th time that the Cats have had an interception return for a touchdown in the last four seasons. The touchdown made it 14-3 in the second quarter and the Cats never looked back on their way to winning in Starkville.

Kentucky allowed the fewest points to a Southeastern Conference opponent since beating these same Bulldogs 24-2 at Kroger Field in 2020. Stoops won for the first time in Starkville and UK won at Mississippi State for the first time since 2008. More importantly, the Cats snapped a three-game losing streak and, in the process, became bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season.

“We needed this win,” Stoops said. “We had lost three straight. We went on the road, a place we hadn’t played very good. I’m proud of this team. It wasn’t pretty but it’s a victory and we’ll take it.”

Kentucky’s next opponent, No. 8 Alabama, posted a 42-28 win over 14th-ranked LSU on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.