Mark Story

Blue Review: Flat first half, third-down inefficiency doom Kentucky

Kentucky wideout Lynn Bowden (1), who was defended by Mississippi State’s Jaquarius Landrews, couldn’t come up with a second-quarter catch.
Kentucky wideout Lynn Bowden (1), who was defended by Mississippi State’s Jaquarius Landrews, couldn’t come up with a second-quarter catch.

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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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Instant analysis (gleaned from the SEC Network telecast) from Kentucky’s 28-13 loss to Mississippi State:

How the game was won

Willie Gay Jr. intercepted Sawyer Smith and returned it for a 52-yard pick-six on the game’s first possession, Kylin Hill ran for two first-half touchdowns and Mississippi State held off mistake-plagued Kentucky.

Game balls

1. Garrett Shrader. With Mississippi State starting quarterback Tommy Stevens sidelined by a should injury, another backup QB — in this case, true freshman Shrader (17-of-22 passing for 180 yards; 11 rushes for 125 yards) — did in Kentucky.

2. Kylin Hill. After being held to 14 yards rushing by Kentucky in UK’s 28-7 upset of No. 14 MSU in 2018, the Bulldogs star running back (120 yards rushing, three TDs) played like a guy with a point to prove.

3. Willie Gay Jr. The Mississippi State linebacker got tossed from the game in the first half after committing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties but his pick-six on the first possession of the game set the tone.

4. Brandin Echols. The junior-college transfer cornerback gave Kentucky a chance at a comeback with a strip-sack forced fumble in the third quarter. Echols also led UK tacklers with 10.

5. A.J. Rose. After taking some early-season criticism, the UK junior running back responded with a strong game (105 rushing yards on nine carries).

Reasons for worry

1. Another post-painful loss letdown. For the third straight season, Kentucky followed up a devastating defeat — in this case, last week’s come-from-ahead loss to Florida — with a very flat performance in the game that immediately followed.

To the Cats’ credit, after a sloppy first half, UK did show some second-half fight.

2. Dropped passes. Kentucky star Lynn Bowden had at least three drops, including on a potential touchdown bomb. Ahmad Wagner also dropped a potential TD pass in the end zone.

3. Third-down conversions. Kentucky went 1-of-12 on third-down plays; Mississippi State was 6-of-10.

4. Tackling. For the first time in a long time, consistent missed tackles really hurt UK, though it was worse in half one than two.

5. Place-kicking. Coming off his miss of a potential game-winning field goal vs. Florida, Chance Poore missed two of three kicks and was pulled late in the game in favor of walk-on Matt Ruffolo, who booted a 29-yard field goal.

Key numbers

Five. Mississippi State has now beaten Kentucky five straight times at Davis Wade Stadium.

Fashion police

For its first road game of 2019, Kentucky wore white helmets, white jerseys with blue numbers and letters and white pants. UK had not worn all white since its 27-16 victory at Florida in the second game of the 2018 season.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.