Cats used tried and true formula to defeat Wolfpack


Shane Shackleford

By Shane Shackleford, Sports Columnist

Although not pretty by some standards, the Kentucky Wildcats did what they do best in their 23-21 victory over North Carolina State in Saturday’s Taxslayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.


The tried and true formula of timely defense, power running and solid special teams — the staples of Kentucky football — were enough for the Cats to end their 2020 season on a high note and give the program momentum going into 2021.


Interestingly, the Cats’ formula for success isn’t something foreign to the ACC or the 23rd ranked Wolfpack.


For many years, ACC power Virginia Tech and its Hall of Fame coaching legend Frank Beamer used those three standards to build their program from an afterthought to success and earned the tag “Beamer Ball.”


The Cats (5-6) applied “Beamer Ball” first through its defense, showcasing a stout rushing defense by limiting the Pack (8-4) to 50 net rushing yards and forcing three Bailey Hockman interceptions by Brandin Echols, Jamin Davis, and Yusef Corker.


The UK run game overpowered the NC State defense, rushing for 281 yards behind big games from running backs AJ Rose (149 yards), Chris Rodriguez (87 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Kavoisey Smoke (47 yards).


The UK special teams also played a major role in the win.  Senior kicker Matt Ruffalo went 3-3 on field goals, while All-American punter Max Duffy averaged 40.4 yards per punt with a long of 51 yards.


With new offensive coordinator Liam Coen coming next season, it will be interesting to see how much the Cats hold to the run-heavy mentality.  To make the next step of improving offensive balance, the Cats must have a passing game component.


Coen will bring with him a lot of play-action concepts to get the receivers, particularly the tight ends, involved.


But for one more game, the Cats were old-school and got the job done.


Coach Beamer would be proud.


Below are the game notes, courtesy of UK Athletics.

North Carolina State vs. Kentucky

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

Bill Gay Grounds at TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.

Jan. 2, 2021

FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 23, No. 24/22 North Carolina State 21

Team Records and Series Information

  • Kentucky completes the season 5-6 and North Carolina State is 84..

  • Kentucky leads the series 2-1.

    • This is the first time the teams have played in a bowl game.

Notes on the Win

  • Kentucky is now 11-9 in bowl games (.550), including 1-1 in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.

    • UK is 5-3 vs. Atlantic Coast Conference teams in bowl games, including 1-0 vs. NC State, North Carolina Florida State and Virginia Tech, 1-2 vs. Clemson and 0-1 vs. Georgia Tech.

  • This was UKs third-consecutive bowl win, including the VRBO Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2019, and the 2019 Belk Bowl.  That ties the school record of three straight bowl wins in the 2006 and ’07 Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowls and the 2009 AutoZone Liberty Bowl following the ’08 season.

  • UK has won 11 consecutive non-conference games over the last three seasons.

  • This was UK’s second win over a ranked opponent this season, also vs. then-No. 18 Tennessee, both of which were away from home.

    • It is the first time UK has defeated two ranked opponents in the same season since 2018, when the Wildcats knocked off No. 25 Florida, No. 14 Mississippi State and No. 12 Penn State.

    • It is the first time UK has defeated two ranked opponents away from home in the same season since 2018, when the Cats won at No. 25 Florida and in the Citrus Bowl vs. No. 12 Penn State.

Team Notes

  • This was UK’s fifth-consecutive bowl appearance, tying the school record set in the 2006-10 seasons.

  • Mark Stoops becomes UK’s first head coach to take a team to five straight bowl games. The previous record was by Rich Brooks in his last four seasons, 2006-09.

    • This was Mark Stoops’ 99th game as head coach at Kentucky, one short of the school record of 100 games coached by Fran Curci from 1973-81.

    • This was Stoops’ 49th win at Kentucky, second behind Paul “Bear” Bryant, who had 60 victories from 1946-53.

  • Turnovers tell the tale: UK won the turnover battle 3-0 today and scored 10 points off turnovers.

    • In the five victories this season, UK was +15 in turnover margin; in the six losses, UK was -5 in turnover margin.

  • Since 2016, UK is 15-7 in games decided by seven points or less, including 2-1 this season.

  • UK made three field goals, breaking the school bowl record of two FGs in six previous bowl games.

Accomplishments of the Senior Class

  • For players who are fifth-year seniors (since 2016), they have …

    • Won 37 games (most in a five-season span since 1949-53)

    • Gone to five straight bowl games, tying the school record

    • Won 20 SEC games, most in a five-year span in school history

    • Posted first 10-win season and winning SEC record since 1977 and first final ranking sine 1984 (2018 season)

    • Won a Citrus Bowl, Belk Bowl and Gator Bowl

    • Notched victories over six ranked opponents

    • Won their regular-season finale for the third-straight year, the first time that has happened in 61 years, 1957-59

    • Won three Senior Day games in a row for the first time since 2010-12

    • Ended the 31-game losing streak to Florida

    • Won at Tennessee for the first time since 1984.

Player Notes

·        Senior quarterback Terry Wilson completed 12 of 20 passes for 99 yards.  He also rushed six times for a net 14 yards.

·        Wilson career notes …

  • 17-8 as the UK starting quarterback.

  • First player in school history with at least 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.

  • Has a career completion percentage of 64.9 (337 of 5199), third in school history.

  • Has 4,458 career yards total offense, eighth place on the UK career list.

  • Joined Derrick Ramsey as the only starting QBs in UK history to win at Florida and Tennessee.

·        Senior running back A.J. Rose rushed 12 times for a career-high 148 yards, his third 100-yard game of the season seventh 100-yard game of his career.

  • Rose now has 1,971 career rushing yards, 10th place in school history.

·        Sophomore running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards, including both of UK’s touchdowns.

  • He has 1,365 career rushing yards, moving into 27th place in school history.

·        Senior wide receiver Josh Ali led the team in receptions with four catches for 18 yards.

·        Junior linebacker Jamin Davis made 13 tackles, his eighth double-figure game of the season, and one-half quarterback sack.

  • He had an interception and five-yard return in the fourth quarter, setting up the game-clinching touchdown. It is his third interception of the season and fifth of his career.

·        Senior cornerback Brandin Echols made his first career interception on N.C. State’s first possession and returned it eight yards to midfield. He also made seven tackles during the game.

·        Junior safety Yusuf Corker picked off a pass in the fourth quarter, his second of the season, occurring in consecutive games. He also had five tackles.

·        Junior safety Tyrell Ajian blocked a field goal attempt in the second quarter, the first blocked kick of his career.

  • It is UK’s second blocked field goal of the season, also Jamin Davis vs. Georgia.

  • He also made a career-high seven tackles.

·        Junior linebacker Jordan Wright made five tackles, including a 12-yard sack, and caused a fumble.

·        Senior linebacker Boogie Watson had four tackles, including a tackle for loss.

  • He has 28.5 tackles for loss in his career.

·        True freshman cornerback Carrington Valentine made his first collegiate start at cornerback. He made six tackles and caused a fumble.

·        Senior kicker Matt Ruffolo set a UK bowl record with three field goals, from 25, 26 and 20 yards.

·        Senior center Drake Jackson started his 44th consecutive game today, the third-longest streak in school history with starting lineups available since 1993.

    Jackson was today’s team captain and wore jersey No. 65 in honor of offensive line coach John Schlarman, who died Nov. 12.


Well, that was interesting.

In a game that had the absolute feel of a must-win situation in Lexington and points all across Big Blue Nation, the Kentucky Wildcats rode a career performance from former Pendleton County standout Dontaie Allen to defeat Mississippi State 78-73 in double overtime in Starkville.

Not only did the Cats win on the road in their SEC opener, but they also won without their coach and one of their top performers on the sideline or on the court.

Freshman guard Terrence Clarke was out due to an ankle injury.  Coach John Calipari received two technicals early in the game and was tossed.  However, his ejection gave the Cats a spark on the defensive end.

From there, Allen did the rest on the offensive end.

Allen, who only had two made baskets all season coming into the game, exploded for 23 points and shot 7-11 from the three-point line to help the Cats (2-6) overcome a five-point deficit at the half to win.

The Cats had their best shooting night all season from deep, going 11-21 from behind the line.

Allen got scoring help from across the lineup from center Olivier Sarr with 14 points and guards Brandon Boston Jr and Devin Askew with 11 apiece

But the moment belonged to Allen.  Kentucky fans have been clamoring for him to get an opportunity to produce.  Allen delivered big at the most opportune time.

The Cats have closed 2020 at 1-6.  They’re 1-0 in 2021 and undefeated in SEC play right now. Can Allen sustain this run?  Who knows.

But for one night, a Kentucky product led the beloved Wildcats to a rousing victory.

Interesting, indeed.

Below are the game notes, courtesy of UK Athletics.




JAN. 2, 2021


Team Records and Series Notes

Kentucky improves to 2-6 overall and 1-0 in Southeastern Conference play.

Mississippi State is now 6-4 overall, 1-1 in the conference.

UK now leads the series 99-20, including wins in 15 straight vs. the Bulldogs.

Kentucky leads 37-12 in games played in Starkville, Mississippi.

The Wildcats have beaten the Bulldogs in every game of the John Calipari era, the only team yet to register a victory vs. UK with Calipari at the helm.

Next: UK will host Vanderbilt on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center for UK’s SEC home opener. It will be the Wildcats’ first game at home since Dec. 12, a total of 24 days since the last game. The game will be televised by SEC Network.

Player Notes

Dontaie Allen put on a performance for the ages. After logging just a minute over the previous three games (two DNPs), the redshirt freshman came off the bench to lead the Kentucky comeback with a career-high 23 points.

Allen played 32 minutes and made 8 of 13 shots and 7 of 11 from 3, plus five rebounds. All were career highs.

The seven 3-pointers are the most by a Wildcat since Immanuel Quickley made eight at Texas A&M on Feb. 25.

Trailing 50-41, Allen hit three key 3-pointers to turn the nine-point deficit into a 56-55 UK advantage.

Allen also hit a 3 with 1:34 left in regulation to tie the game and a 3 in the first overtime that gave Kentucky a three-point lead and eventually sent the game to a second overtime.

He scored five straight points in the second overtime to extend UK’s 71-70 lead to 76-70.

Olivier Sarr notched the second double-double as a Kentucky Wildcat and the 13th of his career with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Lance Ware played a career-high 35 minutes and grabbed a career-best and game-high 13 boards.

Brandon Boston Jr. extended his double-figure scoring streak to eight games with 11 points. He’s the only Wildcat to score in double figure in every game.

Isaiah Jackson had a strong game defensively with four blocks and a career-high three steals in 19 minutes. His four swats were his most since blocking eight vs. Kansas on Dec. 1.

Devin Askew had another strong game with 11 points, a game-high six assists and four rebounds.

Terrence Clarke did not play for the first time this season. He’s day-to-day with a right ankle injury.

Coach John Calipari

Calipari improves to 332-83 at UK.

He now has a 777-223 all-time on-court record.

Calipari has a perfect 16-0 record vs. Mississippi State in his career with 15 of the victories coming as head coach at Kentucky.

UK is 269-48 under Calipari against Associated Press unranked teams.

Kentucky is 56-18 under Calipari following a loss. Five of those losses occurred during the now-extinct six-game losing streak.

UK is now won 10 of 12 SEC openers under Calipari and nine of 12 road SEC openers.

Saturday’s game marked the 1,000th college game of Calipari’s 29-year college head coach career. Calipari is 777-223 in those games. The only coach in NCAA history with at least 189 on-court victories at three different schools, only two coaches (Adolph Rupp with 824 and Roy Williams with 790) have won more games than Calipari through their first 1,000 career games.

Team Notes

UK snapped a six-game losing streak, its longest since Feb. 5-22, 1989.

It was tied for the second-longest losing streak in school history. The 1923 team dropped nine in a row.

UK, which leads the league with 49 regular-season SEC titles, nearly as many as the rest of the league combined, is 68-19 all-time in SEC openers.

The Wildcats are 10-2 in SEC openers under Calipari.

Kentucky is 9-3 in their first SEC road game of the season under Calipari.

The Wildcats have now won three straight games decided in overtime after winning both overtime games last season.

It was UK’s first double-overtime game since winning at Texas A&M 70-64 in two overtimes on Jan. 10, 2015.

Kentucky lost the battle of the boards 49-48, only the third time this season UK has been outrebounded.

The Wildcats dished out 17 assists, their dimes most since the season opener vs. Morehead State when they had 18.

UK blocked 10 shots, the most the team has totaled since 12 vs. Kansas on Dec. 1.

Led by Allen’s seven 3-pointers, Kentucky sank a season-high 11 from long range.

The Wildcats were only 3 of 8 from the charity stripe for a 37.5% clip. The eight attempts are the third fewest of the Calipari era. UK has twice been limited to six attempts during his tenure.

The three makes tied for the fewest total number of free throws under Calipari. UK also made just three against East Tennessee State on Nov. 17, 2017.

In the First Half

The starting lineup consisted of Devin Askew, Davion Mintz, Brandon Boston Jr., Isaiah Jackson and Olivier Sarr for the second time this season. UK is 1-1 with the lineup.

Sarr scored UK’s first points of the game, a 3-pointer from the top of the arc at the 17:19 mark after falling behind 4-0.

Kentucky’s first three field goals were 3-pointers.

Lance Ware was UK’s first sub at the 16:07 mark.

UK’s defense helped charge a 21-16 lead. The Wildcats blocked four shots in the first 12 minutes with two of them from Jackson.

A near five-minute scoring drought by the Wildcats ceded a 21-16 lead. Ware ended an 8-0 MSU run with a second-chance bucket with 4:27 left in the first half.

Dontaie Allen hit his first field goal and first 3-pointer since Dec. 1 vs. Kansas.

Kentucky blocked eight shots in the first half, the most in any half this season.

The Wildcats trailed 35-30 at the half.

UK moves to 1-3 this season when trailing at intermission.

 In the Second Half

The starting lineup opened the second half.

Mississippi State opened up a 50-41 advantage midway through the second half, but UK responded with a tip-back by Sarr off his own miss and an Allen 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 50-46.

However, moments later, down 52-46 Calipari was assessed two technical fouls and ejected from the game. MSU hit three of four free throws to go up 55-46.

Similar to Calipari’s ejection at Arkansas last season, this expulsion lit a fire under the Wildcats as well. UK answered with a 10-0 run sparked by two Allen 3-pointers to take a 56-55 lead with 5:08 left.

It was the Wildcats’ first lead of the second half.

Kentucky had three attempts to win the game with a final possession but could not connect.


Mississippi State scored the first three points of overtime, but a tough bucket by Mintz pulled the Cats to within one with 3:02 to play.

Toppin’s layup tied the score at the 2:25 mark and then Allen gave the Wildcats their first lead of the extra period with a three, but the Bulldogs answered on the ensuing possession to force a second overtime period.

Sarr drained his second 3-pointer of the game to lift the Wildcats to the lead quickly, an advantage they would not relinquish.

An Allen 3 followed by an Askew runner lifted Kentucky to its largest lead of the game with 1:33

to play.