Just one week ago, literally, I was writing about how the UK defense had their worst performance in two seasons against Ole Miss as they gave up 42 points in an overtime loss. The Rebels were the first team to pin over 30 points on Kentucky in 18 games, and first in 28 matchups to put up 34 or more against them.
Tonight? A different story.
Mississippi State came in leading the nation in passing yards per game (480.0) and put up 44 points at LSU on opening weekend with Mike Leach as the new coach, leaving some concern for how the UK defense would perform.
Well, they showed up.
The Cats held Mississippi State to just two points for the game, the lowest for a Mike Leach coached team in his career. The defense also had six interceptions, the third most in school history for a game (they had zero forced turnovers this season going into tonight), and it was the first time since 1996 that Kentucky did not allow a touchdown in an SEC affair. After two games of missed tackles and giving up explosive plays, the Cats did were exceptional at keeping the ball in front of them and containing the Bulldog offense.
“Defenders were in good position tonight, had the opportunity to make plays, and did,” UK Head Coach Mark Stoops said after the game. “When technique and opportunity meet, you’re going to make plays.”
Kentucky junior linebacker Jamin Davis led the in tackles (11) for the night, and conveyed that the team might have been a little motivated after last week’s debacle.
We were just trying to earn a little respect after the game, that’s all,” he said.
UK junior linebacker Jordan Wright echoed Davis’s comments:
“Everybody was feeling the same. We was tired of giving up a lot of points… we tried just playing for each other.”
Both players also mentioned how punter Max Duffy has motivated them with his absolutely magnificent punting, as the nation’s top punter had another marvelous game with 44.9 yards per boot on 8 punts.
“Watching him operate even in practice, it’s amazing… it’s like he has a rocket attacked to his leg or something,” Jamin Davis said.
The UK offense was not as efficient tonight, only getting 84 yards on the ground and 157 total. Senior QB Terry Wilson was just 8/20 for 73 yards and one touchdown, along with 13 rushes for 50 yards. Other than one 51 yard rush for Wilson, the offense just was not clicking. Luckily, they were able to capitalize off turnovers created by the defense.
Overall, the Cats are now 1-2, and looking much better as a team going into a tough stretch of having to play at Tennessee next week then hosting Georgia the following Saturday. Whether or not Kentucky will be able to get both the offense and defense clicking at the same time will be interesting to watch, but they desperately needed a win, and did so in exclamatory fashion.