Cats Build Character, Beat Miss. State 40-38

Freddie Maggardalmost 5 years

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Aritcle written by:Freddie MaggardFreddie Maggard
[caption id="attachment_209576" align="alignnone" width="1800"]Chet White | UK Athletics Chet White | UK Athletics[/caption] The resilient Kentucky Wildcats outlasted the Mississippi State Bulldogs 40-38 on the heels and toe of kicker Austin MacGinnis’ 51-yard field goal that barely crossed the uprights as the clock turned triple zeroes. It wasn’t pretty; but it sort of was in a strange reversal of karma kind of way. Over the years the BBN has been witness to all too many games of the same nature that did not result in UK’s favor in the Win/Loss column. QB Stephen Johnson moves to 4-1 as the Wildcat signal caller with Saturday’s win over Mississippi State. The Boom and Benny Show demolished yet another opponent’s rush defense statistical standing. Let’s take a closer look:

OFFENSE

--  Eddie Gran dialed up another explosive game as his offense rolled up 554 total yards off 77 plays. The Benny and Boom Show demolished the Miss State rush defense to the tune of 262 yards. The Dogs were allowing 136 per game. --  Miss State was allowing 361 total yards per game; UK finished with 554. If my math is correct, and that’s normally questionable, that’s a surplus of 193 yards. --  Senior center Jon Toth controlled the interior of the line of scrimmage. Elite players play their best football when the game is on the line. Toth was next-level good on Saturday night. --  No way to dance around the subject; QB Stephen Johnson struggled in the first half: 9-22, 101 yards. He regained composure and confidence by finishing the game 17-33, 51.6%, 292 yards, 0 INT, and 2 touchdowns. --  Boom Williams and Benny Snell were significant while taking snaps in the Wildcat formation. Eddie Gran repetitively went back to the Wildcat following explosive plays. --  WR Jeff Badet was brilliant: 7 catches, 139 yards, 2 touchdowns. He also returned 3 kicks for 77 yards (25.6 per). Senior Ryan Timmons contributed with 3 key receptions for 77 yards. [caption id="attachment_209577" align="alignnone" width="461"]UK Athletics UK Athletics[/caption] --  Stephen Johnson’s fourth quarter fumble resulted in a Mark McLaurin scoop and score. Cats were poised to salt the game up 34-24 deep in MSU territory prior to Johnson’s turnover. McLaurin’s touchdown was the 83rd point off turnover for the season. Stephen Johnson’s ball security, or lack thereof, has plagued the junior throughout his 5 game tenure. --  Other than the abovementioned fumble Stephen Johnson played winning football in the second half: 8-11, 191 yards, 2 touchdowns. He displayed a high level of maturity and resiliency especially for a first year student-athlete who has been a target of voiced criticism. I will say this again; he’s 4-1 as the Kentucky quarterback with his only loss coming on the road at Alabama. Will he win another game? No idea, most likely yes. But as stated many times before; the role of a backup quarterback who is forced into sustained game action is to win winnable games. Stephen Johnson has done just that. --  John Schlarman’s offensive line continues to show progress, develop, and shine. Example; the SEC’s 5th leading tackler, MSU LB Richie Brown, was averaging 8.5 per game prior to Saturday. Brown finished with 4 total tackles. Johnson was only sacked once. --  The game-winning drive was orchestrated and executed as rehearsed in practice. Mark Stoops said in his post-game press conference that his offense practices that same exact series of events that led to MacGinnis’ field goal on a weekly basis. Johnson hit Jeff Badet on a dig route (deep inside over the middle). Through repetition Badet knew to go down in order to save time on the game clock for a field goal attempt. Credit Johnson for completing passes that led up to that play as well as the OL for providing adequate time in the pocket.

KEY STATISTICS

  • Rushing: 262 yards
  • Passing: 292
  • Total: 554
  • 3rd Down: 6/15
  • Red Zone: 2/4
  • Time of Possession: 32:53
  • Turnovers: 2
Offensive Leaders Benny Snell: 19 carries, 129 yards, 1 TD Boom Williams: 14 carries, 102 yards Jeff Badet: 7 catches, 139 yards, 2 TD’s Stephen Johnson: 17-33, 292 yards, 2 TD’s [caption id="attachment_209578" align="alignnone" width="758"]UK Athletics UK Athletics[/caption]

DEFENSE

--  The secondary played wonderfully. It held QB Nick Fitzgerald to 13-21, 81 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. Miss State’s first half passing numbers: 7-9, 9 yards. Fitzgerald was averaging 211 pass yards per game. --  Safety Marcus McWilson played his best game as a Kentucky Wildcat. His Pick 6 was a major contributor to the final score, but his run support and pass defense were equally as significant. --  Fitzgerald was limited in the passing game but was at times unstoppable on the ground: 16 carries, 107 yards, 2 TD’s and averaged 6.7 yards per rush. Miss State’s Run/Pass/Option attack bothered the Cats especially in the second half. The Dogs finished with 281 yards on the ground. -- All SEC WR Fred Ross scored a 4th quarter touchdown to put the Dogs ahead on the scoreboard but was for the most part held in check: 5 catches, 50 yards, 1 TD. -- NT Naquez Pringle’s play and improvement at NT are to be commended. Much like with Melvin Lewis in 2015, UK is better when Pringle is on the field. He finished with 3 tackles but was active in pursuit and provided an interior line of scrimmage push. [caption id="attachment_209579" align="alignnone" width="771"]UK Athletics UK Athletics[/caption] -- LB’s were vulnerable vs. the RPO. Fitzgerald naturally applies tremendous pressure on the edge, but the majority of his run yards came straight up the middle of the field. Disengaging blocks in order to make tackles while navigating line of scrimmage traffic is a difficult task. -- That said, Jordan Jones continued to rack up a high number of tackles (11). Jones is arguably one of the SEC’s break-out players of the year. -- Kentucky was an efficient tackling defense in the first half. Miss State scored both of its second quarter touchdowns after benefiting from a shortened field due to a Keith Mixon 45-yard kickoff return and a Stephen Johnson fumble. -- Cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Chris Westry combined for 11 tackles and 1 tackle for loss. CB’s are ultimately judged off their performance against the pass, but both CB's were physical against the run on Saturday. -- OLB Denzil Ware and several other defensive players battled injuries. Ware contributed 7 tackles and 1 TFL. His running mate Josh Allen won’t jump off the stat sheet but effectively contained MSU’s edge runs. -- Mississippi State was averaging 401 total yards per game. It gained 362 off 60 plays.

KEY STATISTICS

  • Rushing: Allowed 281 yards
  • Passing: 81
  • Total: 362
  • 3rd Down: 4/12
  • Red Zone: 3/3
  • Turnovers: 1
Defensive Leaders Jordan Jones: 6 solo, 5 assisted, 11 total tackles Marcus McWilson: 3 solo, 5 assisted, 8 total tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 Pick 6 [caption id="attachment_209575" align="alignnone" width="4473"] Elliott Hess | UK Athletics Elliott Hess | UK Athletics[/caption]

SPECIAL TEAMS

-- Kicker Austin MacGinnis missed an early 28-yard chip shot but was later good from 46, 32, and the game winner from 51 yards. -- Punter Grant McKinniss was not as productive: 3 punts, 34.3 yards per. The true freshman did not strike the football well. -- MSU returned 4 kickoffs for 104 yards (with a long of 45). -- Jeff Badet returned 3 kicks for 77 yards, long of 37.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

Simple, UK is 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the SEC. The Wildcat’s 3 SEC wins haven’t come against the conference’s 3 best teams. That really doesn’t matter. The big picture is that Mark Stoops’ Wildcats found a way to overcome adversity and win the football game in the 4th quarter.

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