Who's The Mac? ... Even when kickers play the hero's role, they're still the Rodney Dangerfields of the locker room. "Kickers are football players, too!" was the popular retweet among the Wildcats last night after one of their smallest members came up with perhaps the biggest play of the season. Austin MacGinnis's game-winning 51-yard field goal as time expired capped one of the most memorable nights at Commonwealth Stadium in years. After missing a chipshot at the same end of the field in the first quarter, MacGinnis showed the mental toughness that Mark Stoops has been preaching to his entire team by making his next four attempts on the night from 32, 46, 32 and 51 yards. With the final boot, he became only the second kicker in program history to record four field goals of 51 yards or longer in a career. That's a big reason why, when the season started, I suggested MacGinnis should be a sleeper pick for team MVP. UK may be in two or three other really tight games from here on, and his powerful right leg could wind up being the key to finally breaking through for a bowl game under Stoops.
From Mac to Mc ... It was a good night for Kentucky's honorary Irishmen. Not only did MacGinnis deliver the game-winning kick, but Marcus McWilson made the biggest play of his college career to date when the senior safety picked off a Mississippi State pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to put UK up 34-24. McWilson has been under Stoops' microscope ever since expected starter Darius West went down with a knee injury in fall camp. The UK boss has always held high expectations for the Youngstown, Ohio, native who played at the same high school (Cardinal Mooney) during his prep career. His fourth career interception -- and second pick-6 -- could wind up being the difference in making his first trip to a bowl game.
Big Play Badet ... One of the reasons the Cats haven't been able to get much going in the passing game of late is the lack of connections between Stephen Johnson and Jeff Badet. The junior speed merchant from Orlando came into Saturday's game averaging 25.3 yards per catch on the season, but only had 10 receptions. Kentucky rectified that during the open date, coming up with some creative ways to get Badet the ball, including a reverse-pass for a 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Badet, who finished with seven catches for 139 yards and two scores, may have made his most meaningful play of the night when he caught an 18-yard pass and slid to the ground for a timeout at the :03 mark to set up MacGinnis's game-winner. Had he taken any extra steps, the game was likely over. It was a smart, disciplined play that many players don't have the focus to execute under pressure.
Lopsided Statistics ... The Wildcats outgained the Bulldogs 554-362 on the night. That's a margin that UK has been on the wrong side of against many SEC opponents in the past. Most encouraging: UK ran the ball for 262 yards (Benny Snell 128, Boom Williams 99) against a respectable MSU defense that was allowing only 136 per game on the ground. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said his unit is developing the mindset that they can run the ball against anyone. They've got to be licking their chops to face a Mizzou defense that gave up 51 points and 300 rushing yards on Saturday to Middle Tennessee State.
Ending The MSU Skid ... Kentucky had lost seven straight games against Mississippi State going into Saturday's game, something that should never happen in this series. One of the schools may get on a nice three-year run if they have a transcendent player like the Bulldogs had with Dak Prescott, but the permanent cross-division rivals are traditionally mirror images of each other. It should be a 50/50 game most years. Appropriately, UK's win evened the all-time series record at 22-22.
Uni Combo ... The Cats looked fantastic in their chrome helmets and anthracite coal jerseys and pants for a night game. A+
QB Ball Security .. It's been the bugaboo for a potent UK offense all season long, but Stephen Johnson added two more fumbles to the ledger on Saturday. Both were costly. One gave the Bulldogs the ball deep in the Cats' territory for a first-half score; the other came as UK was threatening to go up 17 points in the fourth quarter, only to see the ball pop loose inside the 10 and go back 81 yards in the other direction for an MSU touchdown. Kentucky has now lost 11 fumbles on the season, compared to only two for opponents. The fact that the Cats are 4-3 with a minus-9 turnover margin is a stroke of good fortune. The offense is fairly potent right now. It could be even more dangerous if the Cats hang onto the ball.
Second-Guessing ... Let's face it. Almost all of us were wondering at the half if the UK staff should consider making a switch at the quarterback position. That would mean not only potentially stripping Johnson of his confidence, but also taking the redshirt off of talented freshman Gunnar Hoak. Stoops & Co. are paid to make the tough decisions, and sticking with Johnson proved to be the right move. He was dynamite in the third quarter, completing all five of his attempts for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with 292 yards through the air, a figure that no one would have predicted after watching UK's previous 10 quarters of play.
Disappointing Turnout ... For a team that has shown a lot of character to battle back to 3-3 on the season entering Saturday's game, it was somewhat surprising to see a crowd announced at 50,414 at Commonwealth Stadium. It was a picture-perfect, cool autumn night for football with an SEC opponent in town that had beaten the Cats seven times in a row. To have approximately 10K empty seats was disappointing. Fortunately, the Cats rewarded those who showed up with a great memory.
What's A Team Gotta Do To Get A Horsecollar Call? ... For at least the third time this season, a Kentucky player was taken to the ground with a blatant "horsecollar" tackle that should have carried a 15-yard personal foul penalty, but went uncalled. This one came with the game on the line as UK quarterback Stephen Johnson was yanked down on the final drive after scrambling for a short gain. If called, the penalty would have put the Cats at midfield with much more time to work with than they wound up having. Fortunately, an incredulous Stoops was only given a sideline warning for his tirade with the officiating crew. One can't really blame him for being frustrated at this point.
Banged Up ... The Cats came out of this one with a handful of potentially significant injuries Running back Jojo Kemp suffered a hand injury and could be seen with a cast-like brace; linebacker Denzil Ware came out for an apparent head injury; and offensive tackle Landon Young suffered a leg/ankle injury. Stoops should have more info on those three players during Monday's press luncheon.