Kentucky’s defense was exceptional on Saturday night, holding the Mississippi State offense scoreless through all four quarters and helping the Cats come away with a 24-2 victory. MSST quarterbacks KJ Costello and Will Rogers combined to throw six picks and failed to make any explosive plays as the UK secondary covered the whole field.
Even though the secondary did not let the Bulldogs’ air-raid offense get going, Kentucky’s defensive line made a huge impact by wreaking havoc in the backfield and keeping both quarterbacks uncomfortable. From veterans like Josh Paschal, who snagged an INT himself and nearly returned it to the end zone, to underclassmen like Isaiah Gibson that came in and got great push up front, the d-line had their best overall performance of the season.
After watching film of the blowout win, UK Head Coach Mark Stoops made a point to praise them in his Monday press conference.
“I’m really appreciative of how hard they played up front and gave us an opportunity to play coverage on the back end and really did a good job. I just wanted to mention those guys. Josh (Paschal) has been playing good all year but I really thought Q (Quinton Bohanna) and Phil (Hoskins) took it to another level and we’re going to need that, and so many of our young guys played well as well,” he said.
Even after injuring his knee in the first half, the head coach said Josh Paschal made a point to talk to the team at the intermission in order to keep their focus, reminding him of offensive line coach John Schlarman considering both have had similar off-the-field battles with cancer.
“He’s a guy that wanted to speak at halftime with me and to address the team and to lead. He is a courageous young man. He’s a leader and passionate about the way he plays and it affects other people. He is a remarkable young man. It is something, especially when you think about that and what he has been through and you think about what Coach (John) Schlarman is going through and I can tell you without getting into details, that it is amazing and inspirational what John is doing. It is tough on him,” he said.
Stoops also said Paschal’s injury is not serious, and expects him to return to play soon.
This coming Saturday will be a big test for the UK defensive line, as Tennessee is one of the strongest teams up front in the SEC. Stoops praised the Vols’ physicality, which the Cats will have to match in order to have a chance at a road victory.
“They’ve really become physical. I think that’s an area that they’ve drastically improved since Jeremy’s (Pruitt) been there. You can see the physicality. Getting Cade (Mays) in there as a transfer eligible helps them along with Trey (Smith) and all of those guys. They’re a big group and they’re physical. Just like all of us in this league, we understand that you’ve gotta have playmakers, but you also have to be very physical and they definitely are that.”