Running Game: Kentucky's "Air Raid" offense may be another year away from being cleared for takeoff, but the Wildcats have run the ball well against the odds at times this year, including a 160-yard effort against Mississippi State. Raymond Sanders had one of his best games as a Cat with 15 carries for 86 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per attempt. He was almost the hero for UK if not for a game-saving shoestring tackle by the Bulldogs' Kendrick Market which prevented Sanders from running for a 49-yard game-tying touchdown with under two minutes remaining. JoJo Kemp added 63 yards on 15 carries for the Cats, including his first of what should be many touchdowns in his UK career.
Stellar Game for Dupree: It was the best game, statistically, of Bud Dupree's UK career. The junior defensive end finished with a game-high 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, and his fifth sack of the season. It could have been the biggest play of the night, dropping MSU quarterback Dak Prescott on a 4th-and-9 play with just over two minutes remaining in the game to give the Cats a shot to win. From the Bulldogs' perspective, Dupree was more disruptive than a crying infant in a movie theater, accounting for 16 yards in MSU losses on the night.
Tip of The Cap To… Mississippi State's Jameon Lewis for his rare hat trick against the Cats. The junior receiver ran for a 19-yard touchdown in the first quarter, caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dak Prescott in the second quarter and returned the favor with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Prescott on a throwback play in the third quarter. Awaiting confirmation of Lewis selling popcorn while the Bulldog defense was on the field.
Turnover-Free: For the second time on the road in SEC play, UK gave itself a chance to win by taking care of the football. The Cats had no turnovers in narrow losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State and a combined six penalties in those two games.
You Shall Not… Well, Yes You Will : Passing is not Mississippi State's bread and butter, especially with the run-oriented Prescott in the game, but the Dawgs carved up the Cats for 295 yards through the air on 25-of-37 passing. Kentucky was out of position early and often, allowing an uncontested 60-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to tight end Malcolm Johnson on MSU's first possession of the game. Two more MSU scoring passes were essentially undefended, and the Dawgs converted several third-and-long plays where the UK defense looked lost.
We Reserve This Spot Weekly For… SEC officials. This week's crew threw perhaps the all-time ticky-tack flag against the Wildcats after they had successfully converted an onside kick in third quarter trailing 21-19. Had UK retained possession, Uncle Mo' would have been squarely on its side. Instead, the Cats' Daron Blaylock, a player who wasn't even involved in the play, was flagged for being inches beyond the kicker at the point of contact. It was technically an offside penalty, by the book, but one that could be called 99 out of 100 kickoffs but never actually is. The Bulldogs took advantage and drove for a touchdown to go up 28-19. Making matters worse, an MSU player in the exact same position was more than a yard offside on the ensuing kickoff and did not get flagged.
Mullen It Over: The most relieved man in the stadium when the final horn sounded Thursday night was Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, who got away with one of the worst coaching decisions you'll ever see in an SEC game on the Bulldogs' last possession. Facing a team with a banged-up quarterback situation and no ability to throw the ball down the field whatsoever, Mullen had his team go for it on 4th-and-9 from the UK 35 with 2:12 remaining. A punt would have effectively ended the game, even one resulting in a touchback, forcing the Cats to drive 80-plus yards with no timeouts. Instead, UK sacked Prescott for a 7-yard loss and took over near midfield. Had the the Cats scored at the end and won the game, Mullen would have likely cost MSU any shot at a bowl appearance this season and may have been searching for a new job in December.
By The Numbers:
1 – Ejection. Mississippi State defensive back Nickoe Whitley must have had LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out" piped into his helmet, getting tossed in the second quarter for punching UK's Jordan Aumiller and Jojo Kemp on consecutive plays that wound up costing the Bulldogs a field goal before halftime. It may cost him more than that if the SEC takes further action.
4.7 – The Cats' paltry average gain per passing attempt. By contrast, MSU averaged 8.0 yards per attempt with a player considered to be a "running quarterback." UK's lack of a vertical passing game has placed way too much pressure on the offense to sustain drives and put points on the board.
9:32 – Kentucky's time of possession in the second half. Oddly, the Cats outscored the Bulldogs 12-7 after the break.
128-75 – UK opponents' scoring advantage in the first half this season. Stoops has preached about it constantly, but the Cats still haven't been able to solve their slow-start issues. The margin is only 76-69 in the second half of games.