Kentucky fell to Mississippi State, 42-16, Saturday night in Starkville for its third loss of the season and third in the SEC. The Wildcats got off to a nice start after going up 10-7 by the first quarter’s end, but quickly after, Mississippi State responded and took control of the game for the rest of the way. Here are the grades the Wildcats deserve based on their Saturday night showing.
After scoring 10 points in the first quarter, Kentucky mustered only six more points on two field goals for the rest of the game. Quarterback Patrick Towles scored the lone touchdown on a two-yard run in the first quarter, and he finished the night with 218 passing yards and two interceptions. The Wildcats had just as many first downs as the Bulldogs did — 30 — but Kentucky had three turnovers to Mississippi State’s one. With three minutes and five seconds remaining in the second half, instead of going for it on fourth down, the Wildcats elected to attempt a 48-yard field goal, which Austin MacGinnis missed. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops indicated that that could have been a turning point in a game that only went downhill from there, as the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. But despite the team’s efforts to create some sort of offense as a whole, sophomore running back Stanley “Boom” Williams had a strong night, rushing for 95 yards total and 80 in the first half alone. Williams became the 35th player in Kentucky history to reach 1,000 career rushing yards Saturday.
The Wildcats knew heading into Saturday that Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott would be a force they’d have to contain. But despite knowing what Prescott was capable of, Kentucky had no answer for the senior, who scored six touchdowns — three passing and three rushing. Afforded ample time to throw in the pocket, Prescott sliced through the Kentucky defense, and Stoop said his team struggled with Mississippi State’s wide receivers, as well. The 42 points the Wildcats gave up were a season-high and the most since their season opener, when UL Lafayette scored 33. Mississippi State had 586 total yards and averaged 8.1 yards per play, but Kentucky still gets an average grade on defense because of Prescott’s talent level. This is a quarterback who has broken 23 school records. Finding an answer for him is no easy task.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Coming off an injury, MacGinnis was 3-for-4 in field goals, hitting a 44-yarder in the first quarter, a 48-yarder in the second quarter and a 32-yarder in the third. His missed attempt was in the second quarter when Stoops had to decide whether to kick a field goal or go for it on fourth down, a decision he later regretted. MacGinnis accounted for over half of Kentucky’s total points.
Citing his second quarter field-goal decision, Stoops admitted he didn’t trust his gut, as the Lexington Herald-Leader reported in the above article. He said he could have coached a better game, but Kentucky was simply outmatched and Prescott was unstoppable. Stoops also had to deal with injuries, as sophomore cornerback Kendall Randolph tweaked what appears to be an ankle, sophomore wide receiver Garrett Johnson needed X-rays on his shoulder and senior offensive tackle Jordan Swindle needed his knee checked out. The Wildcats deserve some credit for finding the scoreboard first in a hostile environment with over 61,000 fans.
All Kentucky can do is flush this game and learn from it. The Wildcats were outmatched by a solid Mississippi State team with an elite quarterback, who put on a show in Starkville. Yes, it was the Wildcats’ worst loss of the season, but it was also against one of their toughest opponents of the season so far.