The #20-ranked Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) remained unbeaten both overall and in league play. Kentucky fell to 1-5, 0-3, after dropping their fourth-straight meeting with Mississippi State and Coach Dan Mullen. The victory should net State a few more poll positions in the coming week, and sets up a pivotal mid-schedule meeting against Tennessee.
"It's great to be 5-0," said CB Darius Slay.
The Bulldogs were expected to exit Commonwealth Stadium with that record, not merely based on this year's matchup but successful trips here in 2007-09-11 as well. Several State seniors finished with three victories on Kentucky's field. Still veterans and rookies alike approached this trip, the first league road game, as purposefully as they had the September meeting with Auburn.
It showed with touchdown drives on two of the first three possessions, a 20-7 halftime lead and lopsided statistical margin at intermission. "We talked to our guys about a fast start," Mullen said. "I thought we certainly had that, we had a really solid first half on both sides of the ball."
Nothing was sharper than the combination of QB Tyler Russell and WR Chad Bumphis. The pair combined for nine catches worth 104 yards and one touchdown, a score that made senior Bumphis the school's all-time leader with 18. Russell finished 23-of-39 for 269 yards, all three numbers career-bests; and two of his tosses went for touchdowns.
"It goes back to what I told you the other day, just taking what the defense gave me," Russell said. "I made some plays downfield, and I was able to check it down. We were able to get a lot of yards off that, just taking the ball down and finding guys open like Bump." Seven Dogs in all caught Russell throws.
That included a couple of backs, one of whom wrote some personal history in the process. State's opening score came on a roll-right and throw-back-left caught by FB Adrian Marcus. It was not only the walk-on fullback's first career reception after three seasons but went for a ten-yard touchdown with big blocking by Gabe Jackson and Blaine Clausell.
"I actually was a little late, I thought I was going to get the touchdown to Bump or whoever else was out there on the smash-route," Russell admitted. "But it didn't happen so I got it back as quick as possible and it worked out perfect."
The initial touchdown came on brutally efficient 13-snap drive of 85 yards, with four plays of ten or more yards. The second score needed just six hikes, including a 4th-and-3 conversion by backup QB Dak Prescott to the Wildcat 31. RB LaDarius Perkins popped the next play through right guard for the 14-0 lead at 1:32.
It was the biggest of Perkins' 25 rushes, and sent the junior on his way to a third 100-yard day with a 110- net. Prescott was the second-leading ground gainer with 32 yards on seven rushes as State punched out 158 total. This despite a UK defense devoted to stuffing the box. That didn't work well and left single coverage Russell and receivers exploited.
Even if the second quarter produced no touchdowns, the pair of field goal drives offset Kentucky's 80-yard drive led by first-time player and true freshman Patrick Towles. Taking his redshirt off worked well for one series and changed the pace enough to make it a 14-7 game. But the Bulldogs answered with a 20-yard field goal by PK Devon Bell at 1:55. And getting the ball back at 0:53, they went 50 yards in five snaps to get in range again. The key was a 26-yard catch by Clarke that had 15 tacked-on for facemasking; and calling timeout at 0:03 to set up the 37-yard kick.
Kentucky doubly-suffered at the end of the half as Towles was lost with an ankle injury. Jalen Whitlow, the starter, returned and while he did direct a touchdown drive after a short State punt it was too little and too late. By then the Bulldogs had gotten their third touchdown via Bumphis. Even the on-sides recovery fell flat thanks to Boyd's timely sack.
"We didn't blitz, I just got to him. It was a little stunt we run between the d-linemen and it just came home." Kentucky might as well have called it a day then, though much of the announced crowd of 49,498 already had. The Wildcats mustered just 228 total yards, 84 of that on 34 rushes or keepers, compared to 427 for State and a 5.5 per-snap average.
The Dog defense had three total sacks and more hurries, with LB Benardrick McKinney collecting 12 total stops and breaking up a pair of short passes. "I just dropped to my zone, we practiced on the stick route all week so I was ready for the little pass route."
Whitlow, also a true freshman more noted for his running, was 10-of21 for 73 yards. Towles had almost that many, 71, on 5-of-6 throwing. Naturally the home team wondered how this matchup might have developed had the second rookie gotten in earlier and stayed healthy. "It wouldn't have been anything different because we practiced for both of them," CB Darius Slay said.
"Because they were young quarterbacks we pressured them." Especially Whitlow. "He didn't like man and when it was zone he couldn't read the zone." Demarco Robinson had six catches for 43 yards and La'Rod King the first-half touchdown on a 32-yard throw when State CB Jamerson Love simply fell down at the 15-yard line. Whitlow kept for the other score, a three-yarder.
Dog defenders weren't happy about allowing two touchdowns. Nor did they collect an interception for the first game all season, nor recover a fumble. Still they weren't surprised by any Wildcat twists. "They kind of told us they were going to play a two quarterback system. We just had to be alert and on our keys all game. So it was OK," Boyd said.
"They were a good team, we were proud of ourselves. But everybody in their heart knows we can do better." And must do better next week against a Volunteer team that took today off to watch their upcoming Western opponent.
"We're going to practice real hard this week and get ready for Tennessee," Perkins said. "It's going to be a big game for us and they're going to be ready too."