The Kentucky Wildcats put the big bad wolf North Carolina State Wolfpack in their place.
The tried and true recipe of running the ball effectively and playing great defense allowed Mark Stoop’s Kentucky football team to improve to 5-6 on the year over Dave Doeren’s NC State football team in the 2021 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Saturday afternoon, 23-21.
The Kentucky Wildcats outgained the North Carolina State Wolfpack on the ground 281 yards to 50 en route to victory. This helped Kentucky dominate the time of possession, but the Wildcats defense needed three picks of NC State quarterback Bailey Hockman to ensure they would leave Jacksonville with an impressive bowl victory over a ranked team out of the ACC.
Kentucky football did what they do best in the Gator Bowl
There is a reason Stoops is the second-longest tenured head coach in the SEC behind only Nick Saban at Alabama. Stoops has been instrumental in transforming the Wildcats from SEC East cannon fodder to one of the toughest outs in the SEC, week in and week out. Forcing Hockman to make a few bad throws ultimately tipped the scales in Kentucky’s favor in this one.
Under Stoops, Kentucky is never going to have a high-octane offense. It is all about imposing their will in the ground game with one of the very best offensive lines in the country. Asim Rose Jr. had 12 carries for 148 yards on the day, while Christopher Rodriguez Jr. had 17 carries for 84 yards and two trips to pay dirt. Though NC State would not go away, Kentucky held on to secure the win.
Overall, both of these programs are trending in the right direction. NC State benefited tremendously by sharpening their iron in ACC-only play. Though the Wildcats ended up with a sub-.500 record, everybody knows this would have been a seven or eight-win team had it been a typical, 12-game season with eight SEC games. The Gator Bowl lived up to lofty expectations.
Keep an eye on Kentucky and North Carolina State to make some noise in 2021.