LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky keeps knocking down proverbial doors and the Wildcats busted through another opening with a 28-7 victory over Mississippi State Saturday night.
Two weeks after ending a 31-game losing streak to Florida and defeating the Gators for the first time in Gainesville since 1979, Kentucky dominated the Bulldogs from top to bottom to win its first two Southeastern Conference games for the first time since 1977. For Wildcats, it was a long time coming.
Since his arrival more than six years ago, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has endured several close calls on both ends of the spectrum but has been waiting for the ultimate breakthrough. His message to the Wildcats earlier this week was to stay the course and wanted his squad to keep “buying in and doing the dirty work when nobody’s watching.”
“That was one of my messages (last Monday),” Stoops said. “I talked a lot about you reap what you sew and sooner or later, you’re going to get paid and you’re going to benefit from that. You don’t know when that time is, but you’ve got to keep working, keep doing it and eventually you’re going to get paid many times over. Our team is working hard in a lot of ways when people don’t see it.”
Despite an unblemished record, the Wildcats (4-0) were an underdog against the 14th-ranked Bulldogs and the players wanted to make another strong statement to the naysayers.
“Everybody picked (us to lose) and the same thing against Florida,” Kentucky senior linebacker Jordan Jones said. “We keep pricing people wrong. I don’t know what else you have to prove. It’s such a long season and we’re not done yet.”
Four games into his sixth season at the helm, the Wildcats are receiving a paycheck that has no monetary value. Instead, Stoops is watching the Wildcats cash in memorable moments on both sides of the football.
“It’s arguably one of the most complete games since I’ve been here and I’m just appreciating the team’s approach,” Stoops said. “There’s nothing cocky about this team, but they expected to play like this and that’s the way they prepared and that’s the way they’re going to go about their business. That’s what I love about this team.”
A defensive-minded coach, Stoops loved the fact the Wildcats held Mississippi State to 201 total yards, including 53 in the second half. The Bulldogs were averaging 311 yards rushing per game prior to the contest and managed just 56 yards on the ground and an average of a scant two yards per carry.
Instead of using a complex scheme to stop Mississippi State veteran quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who dismantled the Wildcats in a 45-7 win last year in Starkville, Stoops and his staff devised a plan that was straightforward and easy to understand.
“We had a great plan, but it was simple,” the Kentucky coach said. “It was great team defense. We weren’t overly complex.”
The scheme came easy for the Wildcats, especially the veterans.
“We felt comfortable out there — we all did — and it showed,” Kentucky senior linebacker Josh Allen said. “We went out, especially in the second half, and showed them we play real football now. We’re here and we want everybody to know it. We’re not going anywhere.”
In addition to Kentucky’s defensive performance, there was running back Benny Snell, putting on a show yet again. The Kentucky junior running back rushed for 125 yards and scored all four touchdowns and proved last year’s 18-yard performance against the Bulldogs in Starkville was a fluke.
“He’s just Benny, he really is,” Stoops said., “He’ll be the first to credit the physicality of the offensive line, but he has a determination about him and a toughness and vision. … He’s Benny.”
In addition to the performance on the field, Stoops praised Big Blue Nation for doing its part in the stands and honoring the memory of Marco Shemwell, a 4-year-old who died this week following an accident as his family was leaving Kroger Field last week.
“That’s what we play in the SEC (and) that’s the environment they’re supposed to play in and it makes a difference. When they’re loud ad the offense line can’t hear the snap count like that, it’s very hard to block Josh (Allen). That’s where it makes a difference.
The Wildcats plan to celebrate for about 16 hours before shifting their focus to South Carolina.
“What a special night, on all fronts,” Stoops said afterward. “Truly a great night.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.