Bounce-Back Game: The Cats’ 41-3 loss at LSU threatened to throw some serious doubt into Big Blue Nation, so Kentucky needed a bounce-back effort like it had against the nation’s top-ranked team, even in defeat. There will be no talk of moral victories – the Cats were very disappointed about a giant missed opportunity in this one – but the way they performed was important. Mississippi State did not overlook UK. The Bulldogs didn’t make a ton of errors and still find a way to win. They were pretty much what the No. 1 team has been all season – a deadly offensive unit with just enough defensive playmakers up front to make up for their issues on the back end. Kentucky held up well for most of the afternoon. Give Mark Stoops & Co. another Top 25 recruiting class or two, and perhaps they’ll be in a similar position.
Terrific Towles: Kentucky’s sophomore quarterback had a career-high 390 yards passing and two touchdowns while rushing for 76 yards and two more scores. Almost every time the Bulldogs seemed poised to put UK away, he came up with a response. Had the Cats won, it may have gone down as the most memorable individual performance in school history. As it stands, it’s another stepping stone for UK’s signal caller. State’s Dak Prescott has earned a lot of Heisman consideration this season – and it’s well deserved – but Towles is keeping pace with him statistically. Some national analysts, such as the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum, think he may be considered the SEC’s top quarterback entering 2015. Not bad for a guy none of us had any idea would be the Cats’ starting quarterback three months ago.
Dominant Dupree: I’m not sure whether UK senior defensive end/linebacker Bud Dupree will receive legitimate consideration for SEC or national defensive player of the year honors, but he sure looked like a real candidate on Saturday with a national TV audience watching. Dupree charted a game-high 10 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack, outplaying the Bulldogs’ high-profile defender Benardrick McKinney. The Cats’ star could not be blocked or slowed down, even when State kept a back in to chip him or ran plays away from his side. It’s hard to single out a player for defensive performance when his team allows 45 points, but if there was ever a case where it was deserved, this was it.
CWS Atmosphere: Many long-time observers have called it perhaps the best day-game environment ever at Commonwealth Stadium. It’s certainly in the top two or three, up there with the 2007 upset of No. 1 LSU. UK fans showed up in big numbers and came LOUD from the get-go. It not only impressed MSU head coach Dan Mullen, but also several of the Cats’ recruiting visitors. Two of them – 2016 Ashland Blazer running back Quinton Baker and 2016 Ohio linebacker Roland Walder – decided to give verbal commitments to Stoops not long after the game ended.
Run Defense Issues Linger: In four of its five SEC games, Kentucky has surrendered 200 or more yards on the ground. Even more disconcerting, the figure has been growing from week to week since holding Vanderbilt to 54 on Sept. 27. South Carolina went for 282, LSU recorded 303 and Mississippi State put a new season-worst figure on the Cats with 326. It doesn't seem to be an issue of being out of position. The defense often looks like it has a play stopped for little or no gain, but wrapping up on tackles has been a persistent issue. MSU's Josh Robinson, who rushed for 198 yards on Saturday, may have had 150 of those after first contact. If UK has any hopes of getting the problems solved, next week would be a good place to start. The Cats travel to Missouri to face the Tigers, who came into last week ranked 12th in the SEC in rushing (148.4 yards per game).
Stick Around Long Enough... You'll see anything. Saturday was proof as Mississippi State returned an on-side kick for a touchdown with 2:22 remaining in the game. It was the latest in a two-week avalanche of UK blunders on special teams. The Cats muffed a punt that led to a fumble at their own 12 yard line, missed a field goal (albeit a long one) and allowed the onside kick for a score. That's two games in a row where special teams have led to point swings of 17 points or more. It's almost impossible to win in the SEC with that happening.
By The Numbers:
2.8 - The average rushing yards per cary for UK in its three SEC losses.
6.4 – Yards per rushing attempt by the Bulldogs.
30 – First downs by Mississippi State.
50 – Percent for the Bulldogs on third-down conversions.
542 – Total yards for State.