Kentucky’s wide receivers have tried to put their best cleat forward when it comes to the Cats’ recent issues throwing the ball.
They tried to brush off the annoyance that UK had yet to score a touchdown through the air against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
But it frustrated them.
Senior Jeff Badet was in Coach Mark Stoops’ office on Friday discussing just that.
What Stoops told Badet was to “stay the course, stay patient.
“We’ve had our struggles with throwing the ball but that opportunity was going to come and when it comes, you’d better make it and do it and he certainly did,” Stoops said after Kentucky beat Mississippi State 40-38 on a 51-yard field goal at the buzzer.
Badet was a huge reason why.
The senior, who had 10 catches for 253 yards this season, finished the game with seven grabs for a career-high 139 yards and two touchdowns, both of 40-plus yards.
No catch was bigger than the 18-yarder he made in the middle of the field with precious few seconds left that set up the game winner by Austin MacGinnis.
“Him making those plays was huge for us,” said fellow senior wide out Ryan Timmons, who had a few huge plays of his own with three catches for 77 yards.
Badet was getting treatment after the victory and wasn’t able to come in for postgame interviews, but Timmons was happy to sing the praises of the player from Orlando.
“He did great,” Timmons said. “He was cramping really bad. So I had to go out there on kickoff returns and step in for him and then he came out from the locker room and made those big plays.”
Quarterback Stephen Johnson said he got some extra work in during the bye week with Badet. “In the first half of the season, we really weren’t connecting like we were supposed to, but we definitely connected today.”
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said he understood the receivers being upset.
“That’s a frustrating thing for guys,” Gran said. “They want the ball. I don’t want to coach them if they don’t want the ball, but at the end of the day, it’s about winning.”
And Badet made winning plays when his turn came.
“Today was his day,” Gran said. “That’s what we expect Jeff to do. That’s what Jeff expects to do.”
‘I’m so happy for him’
Senior Marcus McWilson made a huge play, his first interception since his sophomore season, and returned it 45 yards for the touchdown.
The safety’s reward when he got back to the UK sideline?
“I tackled him. I hurt him,” Stoops said half laughing.
It’s true, McWilson confirmed of his coach, who is especially hard on him maybe because they’re both Youngstown, Ohio, natives and former Cardinal Mooney players.
Stoops was proud of McWilson even though he had a funny way of showing it.
“I’m so happy for him,” the head coach said. “He doesn’t realize how much potential he has sometimes and that’s why I’m hardest on him.”
McWilson’s defensive coordinator couldn’t have been happier for him, either.
“Through success and failure, he just goes to work every day and tries to get better,” D.J. Eliot said. “He doesn’t ever quit and he’s always been a competitor. And to step up big in that situation and make that play is just tremendous.”
Preparation was key to that pick of Nick Fitzgerald, McWilson said.
“I studied film,” he said after the win.” I knew the routes that were coming and knew what I was going to get. I was able to make a play on the ball, get to the end zone and help our team get up.”
Some injury updates
Darryl Williams, the Mississippi State offensive lineman who was injured in the second half, was released from University of Kentucky Hospital on Sunday and will fly back to Starkvile with the training staff.
“Great news,” the Bulldogs’ Twitter feed said. “Darryl Williams is doing fine. Tests were negative.”
The 6-foot-2, 303-pounder from Bessemer, Ala., was injured on a field goal and appeared to lay motionless on the field for more than 10 minutes. He was carried off on a stretcher in front of his Bulldogs teammates.
Immediately following the game, Bulldogs Coach Dan Mullen said he didn’t have an update, but offered that Williams was alert and moving his fingers and toes on the field.
“I appreciate Mark (Stoops) coming over to check on him,” Mullen said. “In the giant picture of life, it’s just a football game and when stuff like this happens it brings you back to reality. I made sure that our guys knew that he was alert and I believe that Mark told his guys the same.
“It’s tough for anybody to witness that. It’s a scary situation for everybody, so hopefully he’ll be OK. Our prayers are with him.”
As for Kentucky’s laundry list of injuries, here is what we know: Running back Jojo Kemp has a hand injury; linebacker Jordan Bonner suffered a sprained knee; linebacker Denzil Ware, who appeared to have a head injury, probably is fine, Stoops confirmed. And offensive tackle Landon Young has a sprained ankle.
Visitors at Commonwealth Stadium
Four-star quarterback Danny Clark walked onto the Commonwealth Stadium field for the first time as a UK football commitment about an hour before Saturday night’s game, wearing a bright blue UK jacket and taking selfies just hours after pledging to the Wildcats.
Clark — a 6-4, 230-pound prospect from Akron, Ohio — was a huge addition to UK’s recruiting class of 2017 earlier in the day, but he wasn’t the only high-profile prospect at Commonwealth on Saturday night.
Four-star defensive lineman Cam Spence made it to Lexington for his official visit, and UK commitment Clevan Thomas — a three-star wide receiver from Florida — was also in town for an official visit.
Another UK commitment, three-star running back Bryant Koback, was on the field before the game taking pictures with his family. Koback, the Cats’ only running back pledge for 2017, was on crutches after suffering a season-ending leg injury last month.
Scott County offensive tackle Bryan Hudson also took an unofficial visit to Saturday’s game. Hudson, who visited Notre Dame last weekend, earned his first scholarship offer from UK in April, and 247Sports ranks him as the No. 93 overall recruit nationally in the class of 2019.
Staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this report.