UK Football

Brutal first half buries Kentucky football early at Mississippi State

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Game day: Kentucky at Mississippi State

Click below for more of’s coverage of the Kentucky-Mississippi State football game.

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Both Kentucky and Mississippi State had a week to channel their rage after dropping tight games at home last Saturday. Only one of them came out on fire this weekend.

Mississippi State defeated Kentucky, 28-13, to open its Southeastern Conference slate and dropped the Wildcats to 0-2 in league play. An interception on UK’s first drive led to the Bulldogs’ first score, and in hindsight it was a start of a disastrous first half from which the Wildcats wouldn’t fully recover.

Linebacker Willie Gay Jr., a junior who missed Mississippi State’s first three games due to a violation of team rules, picked off Sawyer Smith’s second pass of the game and returned it 53 yards to put the Bulldogs up 7-0 less than 2 minutes into the game. Kentucky then stalled at midfield on its second trip.

The Wildcats held Mississippi State at midfield on its first offensive series despite playing without Kash Daniel, their regular starting middle linebacker, to open the game. Chris Oats started in place of Daniel, who was apparently held out of the first quarter by the coaching staff as a response to a controversial play that occurred toward the end of UK’s loss to Florida. Chance Poore hit a 40-yard field goal on the Cats’ next possession to get them on the board with 2:49 to play in the first quarter.

Those three points would be UK’s only ones in the first half while self-inflicted errors helped MSU build distance between itself and the Cats.

An offsides penalty by Quinton Bohanna extended a Bulldogs drive on third-and-2. That series ended in a 12-yard TD run by Kylin Hill, which was held up after an officials’ review.

On the Bulldogs’ next drive Jamari Brown and Calvin Taylor Jr. both failed to sack Garrett Shrader for what would have probably turned into a third-and-20 try; Shrader instead picked up 12 yards, then completed a 4-yard pass for a first down and Hill soon after rushed for his second score to put State up by 18.

UK on its subsequent drive was forced to punt after picking up 17 yards on its first play from scrimmage. Mississippi State drove to UK’s 32-yard line before junior-college transfer Quandre Mosely picked off a pass for the first time as a Wildcat, returning it to the Bulldogs’ 49. The Cats drove to State’s 24-yard line but a sack of Smith pushed them backward; a 47-yard field goal try by Poore went wide left.

Smith during Mississippi State’s first possession of the second half was taken to the locker room and had his right shoulder evaluated, but he played UK’s next offensive series after Brandin Echols recovered a fumble in UK territory. A 21-yard pickup by Lynn Bowden on fourth-and-8 — after he was almost tackled — helped breathe life into the Kentucky offense; Kavosiey Smoke capitalized with a 2-yard TD run after a pass-interference penalty was drawn by Ahmad Wagner.

UK nearly forced a three-and-out on its next defensive series but still managed a stop after Taylor swatted a third-and-4 pass at the line of scrimmage. It failed to turn that stop into points, however; a nine-play, 72-yard drive ended in another miss by Poore, this one from 26 yards out.

Kentucky again got a stop and marched to MSU’s 11-yard line; backup kicker Matt Ruffolo, a walk-on, converted a 29-yard field goal with 4:39 to play.

A 49-yard run by Shrader on third-and-4 likely put to rest UK’s attempt at a rally, but Hill’s third TD rush three plays later knocked it out cold.