BOZICH | Kentucky 2 wins from bowl eligibility after surviving M - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Kentucky 2 wins from bowl eligibility after surviving Miss State

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Kentucky needed to beat Mississippi State Saturday night to improve its bowl chances. Kentucky needed to beat Mississippi State Saturday night to improve its bowl chances.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — They delayed the start of the coverage of the Mississippi State-Kentucky game on the SEC Network Saturday night.

Kentucky fans had their chance to see how inept that Missouri, UK’s opponent next week, has become. Two seasons after the Tigers won the SEC East for the second consecutive season, Missouri looked like a team that can’t beat anybody.

Missouri backed up back-to-back losses to Louisiana State and Florida with its worst loss yet — a 51-45 Homecoming stumble against Middle Tennessee State in Columbia.

Translation: If UK could beat Mississippi State, all the Wildcats had to do was win at Missouri next week and trample Austin Peay Nov. 19 in Commonwealth Stadium and they could celebrate bowl eligibility.

Yep.

Nope.

Yep.

Down eight at halftime, ahead 10 early in the fourth quarter, down one with about a minute to play, Kentucky beat Mississippi State, 40-38, on a 51-yard field goal by Austin MacGinnis on the final play of the game. The win bumped Kentucky to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference.

“I was very proud of our football team,” UK coach Mark Stoops said on the SEC Network after the game. “We’re not perfect. But I love these guys. They’re playing their hearts out. I wish we could play a little bit better at times. But they’re a fun group to coach.”

Ahead 34-24 with less than 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Kentucky came from ahead (for the second time this season at home) to put themselves in position to lose to an opponent from Mississippi.

This would not have been as brutal as the season-opening loss to Southern Mississippi. But it would have been close.

Driving for a field goal or possible touchdown that would have put the Bulldogs in position for a 10-count, the Wildcats wobbled when quarterback Stephen Johnson fumbled and Mississippi State ran it back for a 81 yard touchdown with 9:33 to play.

The Wildcats rallied with a field goal to push the lead to 37-31. But Mississippi State drove for the go-ahead touchdown, scoring on a 7-yard pass with 69 seconds to play.

Kentucky almost squandered its final rally. The officials missed a horse-collar tackle. Stoops mismanaged the clock and his timeouts. Dorian Baker dropped a difficult catch in the end zone.

But Johnson found Jeff Badet over the middle for an 18-yard reception with three seconds to play and the ball on the visitors’ 33-yard line. UK finally used a timeout.

MacGinnis drilled several practice kicks into the sideline net — and then trotted onto the field for the winning kick, his fourth field goal of the game.

Down 24-20 with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter, the Wildcats started playing the way that coach Stoops has asked his team to play for more than three years.

They made big plays — on offense and defense.

Johnson launched a 40-yard touchdown pass to Badet, his second scoring pass of 40 yards or more in the game.

Defensive back Marcus McWilson jumped in front of a pass thrown by Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and danced 45 yards for a touchdown.

The Wildcats jumped ahead, 34-24, and were primed to push the lead to 17 points — until Johnson’s fumble.

The game’s most unsettling moment came midway through the third quarter. Mississippi State offensive lineman Darryl Williams was knocked backwards to the ground by UK’s Naquez Pringle while blocking for a field goal.

Williams remained on the turf for nearly 15 minutes before he was lifted onto a yellow board, transferred to a stretcher and taken to Chandler Medical Center less than a mile from Commonwealth Stadium. Williams’ head appeared to be snap back on block.

Quint Kessenich of the SEC Network said Williams was able to move his “extremities,” but had feelings of numbness.

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