It was not pretty. In fact, the 2021 Taxslayer Gator Bowl was a brutal outing that included 17 combined penalties on Kentucky and NC State.
When it came down to simply playing the game of football, however, UK solidified their bread and butter by efficiently running the ball and cashing in on opportunities defensively.
The Cats finished with 380 total yards of offense for the game, 281 of which were on the ground with tight end coach Vince Marrow calling the plays. Senior running back AJ Rose led the team with 12 rushes for 148 yards (12.3 yards per carry), and also had the longest run of the matchup (44 yards). He finished his career as Gator Bowl MVP.
“He’s been here a long time and has helped us win a lot of games,” UK Head Coach Mark Stoops said proudly talking about Rose’s performance.
Redshirt sophomore Chris Rodriguez once again was a bully in the backfield, running for 84 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. The passing attack was brief although effective at times, as senior quarterback Terry Wilson finished with 99 yards on 12-20 passing, completing a pass to six different wideouts.
Defensively, however, is where Kentucky was able to stomp out any momentum for NC State. They held the Wolfpack to zero points in the first half, and finished with three interceptions (now lead the SEC with 15 INTs on the year). The biggest pick of the game was on a tipped pass by junior linebacker Jamin Davis, which came as NC State had the ball down just 16-14 with 3:06 left in the fourth quarter. Davis finished with a team-leading 13 tackles, as he once again was a force all over the field.
“Every time Jamin (Davis) steps on the field he’s getting better…I really appreciate how he went out and played tonight,” Stoops said.
At the end of the day, UK has now won three straight bowl games, and finishes off a tough season with good momentum. The senior class deserves a lot of credit for taking the program places they don’t go often.