Five important statistics from Kentucky’s 28-7 win over No. 14-ranked Mississippi State on Saturday night:
1. Kentucky is now 11th nationally in total defense.
After allowing only 201 meager yards to a potent Mississippi State offense, the Kentucky defense has jumped all the way to 11th nationally in total defense, allowing just 279.5 yards per game.
That’s easily the highest ranking in Mark Stoops’ six seasons as the UK coach. UK finished 92nd in total defense last season, giving up 426.9 yards per game. The Cats were 85th in 2016; 59th in 2015; 77th in 2014 and 92nd in 2013, Stoops’ first season as head coach after spending three seasons at Florida State as defensive coordinator.
As we pointed out, Mississippi State’s 201 yards of total offense is the fewest by an SEC team not named Vanderbilt since Ole Miss gained just 201 yards in a 21-0 loss at Kentucky in 1993. UK’s head coach then? Bill Curry. His defensive coordinator? Mike Archer.
Can the Cats remain high in the defensive rankings? Here are the total offense rankings for Kentucky’s eight remaining opponents:
- South Carolina-35
- Texas A&M-7
- Middle Tennessee-105
2. Benny Snell and Nick Fitzgerald flipped games.
In Mississippi State’s 45-7 drubbing of the Cats last season in Starkville, MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald carried 12 times for 115 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown. Meanwhile, UK running back Benny Snell was held to a career-low 18 yards on seven carries.
Saturday night: Different year, different story. Fitzgerald managed just 20 net yards on 16 carries. He lost 27 yards, mainly on three sacks. Meanwhile, Snell carried 25 punishing times for 165 yards and four touchdowns, eliciting chants of “Benny For Heisman.”
Last year, UK rushed for just 115 yards at Mississippi State. The Cats rushed for 270 on Saturday night. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran’s ground game is now 11th nationally at 269.0 yards per game.
Last year, Mississippi State rushed for 282 yards. Saturday, the Bulldogs were held to 56 yards on 28 attempts, a 2.0 average. Defensive coordinator Matt House’s unit is now 21st nationally in run defense, allowing 106.0 yards per game.
Back to Snell. Saturday night was his 15th game of 100-or-more yards rushing. Three have come in the first four games this year. Snell is now third nationally in rushing yards per game at 135.0. He trails only Darrell Henderson of Memphis (177.25) and Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin (157.0).
Snell’s 15 games of 100-or-more yards rushing
3. Kentucky is 2-0 against ranked teams this year.
First came the 27-16 win at No. 25 Florida on Sept. 8. Stoops’ squad followed that up with the win over the No. 14 Bulldogs on Saturday. It will be a surprise if Kentucky doesn’t find a spot inside the AP Top 25 for the first time since Rich Brooks’ club in 2007. That was the last year UK defeated two ranked teams in the same season.
Stoops now has four wins over ranked teams in his tenure. That’s the most by a UK coach since Fran Curci went 9-19-1 against ranked teams during his tenure from 1973-81.
Here are the updated records of UK coaches against ranked teams since 1946:
- Bear Bryant 9-10-2
- Blanton Collier 5-18-1
- Charlie Bradshaw 4-8
- John Ray 2-16
- Fran Curci 9-19-1
- Jerry Claiborne 2-22
- Bill Curry 2-20
- Hal Mumme 3-15
- Guy Morriss 1-7
- Rich Brooks 2-25
- Joker Phillips 1-12
- Mark Stoops 4-12
4. Kentucky didn’t pass the ball because it didn’t have to.
UK attempted just 14 passes, matching a low in that category under Mark Stoops. The Cats were just 3-of-14 for 55 yards in that 45-7 loss at Florida in 2016. They were 8-of-14 for 129 yards in a win over FCS foe Austin Peay later that same season.
Quarterback Terry Wilson was just 8-of-14 for 71 yards with no touchdowns and an interception on Saturday. He was 4-of-8 for 33 yards in the first half and 4-of-6 for 38 yards in the second half.
Two of his completions were among the biggest plays of the game. The first was a 22-yard pass to C.J. Conrad, that the tight end called “the best catch of my career, college or high school.) The second was a 23-yard pass to Dorian Baker that the senior made a tiptoe catch on the right sideline at the 2-yard line. That set up one of Snell’s four scores.
Kentucky’s 71 passing yards is the sixth time under Stoops the Cats did not pass for 100 yards. The passing yardage low under Stoops is 49 yards against Vanderbilt in 2016 when UK was 10-of-24 through the air in a 20-13 win.
Interesting note about those six sub-100 passing yard games: UK lost the first three, but have won the last three — the 20-13 victory over Vanderbilt in 2016 on 49 yards passing; the 29-26 win over Tennessee last season on 82 yards passing, and the 71 yards against Mississippi State on Saturday.
5. These kind of Kentucky starts are rare indeed
My colleague Jennifer Smith wrote about UK being 4-0 and where the Cats can go from here.
Here’s the list of UK’s 4-0 starts since 1950:
▪ UK started 4-0 in 2008 on the way to a 7-6 season and win over East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl
▪ UK started 4-0 in 2007 on the way to an 8-5 season with a win over Florida State in the Music City Bowl.
▪ UK started 4-0 in 2002 on the way to a 7-5 season in which the Cats were banned from a bowl bid because of NCAA probation.
▪ UK started 4-0 in 1984 on the way to a 9-3 season and win over Wisconsin in the old Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham.
▪ UK started 4-0 in 1983 on the way to a 6-5-1 season and loss to West Virginia in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
▪ UK started 4-0 in 1950 on the way to an 11-1 season with a win over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
As we reported, this is the first time UK has been 2-0 in the SEC since the 1977 team that finished 10-1 overall and 6-0 in the league. That team was 3-1 after four games, thanks to a 21-6 loss at Baylor in Week 2. UK’s star running back Rod Stewart tore his ACL in that game and was lost for the season.
The story goes that D.G. FitzMaurice and Rick Bailey, the two Herald-Leader writers covering the game in Waco, agreed afterward that the Wildcats might not win another game all season. Instead, Kentucky didn’t lose a game.
Kentucky football 2018