Don't bring a cat to a Dawg fight: Rogers leads MSU to big win over Kentucky

Jo'quavious Marks scores an instrumental touchdown in the second quarter to turn the game in MSU's favor.

A record-breaking performance from sophomore quarterback Will Rogers helped Mississippi State University to a 31-17 victory over the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday.

Rogers completed 36 of his 39 passes for 344 yards and one touchdown. His 92.3% completion percentage was the highest for a quarterback in SEC history with 30 or more pass attempts. Jaden Walley led the team with 95 receiving yards, and true freshman wide receiver Rara Thomas caught Rogers's lone touchdown.

Despite the Air Raid offense run by the Bulldogs, the team added the majority of their scores on the ground. MSU had 94 rush yards to Kentucky's 66. Dillon Johnson added two touchdowns on 41 rushing yards, and Jo'quavious Marks accounted for 58 yards and one score.

MSU also dominated on defense. The team forced four Wildcat turnovers — three of which were interceptions — and managed to score 14 points off of those turnovers. Jett Johnson led the team with nine total tackles and a fumble recovery.

The game started off well for MSU, but quickly turned sour. Kentucky fifth-year wide receiver Josh Ali returned Tucker Day's punt 74 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats an early 7-0 lead. On the following drive, MSU senior kicker Brandon Ruiz missed a 47-yard field goal, and the Wildcats took over once again.

In the second quarter, MSU was finally able to stiffen up. After Kentucky extended its lead to 10, Rogers completed almost all of his passes on the following drive to push the ball down the field. 

The drive was capped off with a 7-yard rushing touchdown by Marks. The defense forced the opposing team to go three-and-out, and MSU's offense kept up the momentum. The Bulldogs marched down the field without ever facing a third down and added their second touchdown of the night on the ground off of a 9-yard rush by Dillon Johnson with 1:40 left until halftime. The clock should have eased down to zero pretty easily from there, but in true MSU fashion, there was drama involved. Kentucky used all three of their timeouts to stop the clock and scramble quickly down the field, threatening to score. MSU's defense stepped up big time: with 14 seconds left, Jalen Green intercepted Levis's pass in the end zone. The team went into the locker room with all of the momentum knowing they received the ball after the half.

MSU had new life coming back onto the field after halftime and managed to extend the lead greatly in the third quarter. After Ruiz kicked a 27-yard field goal with 6:34 left in the quarter, the defense capitalized. Jett Johnson forced a fumble on the Kentucky 22-yard line, which led to Dillon Johnson's second touchdown of the night. The defense was not ready to stop there. Kentucky got the ball back but couldn't hold onto it for longer than one play. Levis threw his third interception of the night to Cameron Young, and he returned it for five yards to the 24-yard line. On third down with 11 to go from the Wildcats' 25-yard line, Rogers aired a beautiful pass to Rara Thomas in the end zone to put the game away for good.

With Mississippi State leading 31-10 at the start of the fourth quarter, the visiting team had to act fast. Kentucky quarterback Will Levis threw the offense's only touchdown of the night when he completed a 17- yarder to DeMarcus Harris. After the Bulldogs were unable to drive on offense, the defense stepped up and forced Levis to throw three incomplete passes in a row. MSU used the final eight minutes of the game on a slow and steady drive that ate away at the clock. When the clock hit zero, everyone in the stadium began celebrating the huge victory over a highly ranked SEC team.

In the postgame press conference, head coach Mike Leach said he was impressed with the outstanding job Rogers had done on the field.

"I thought he really did a good job seeing the field," Leach said. "I thought he did a good job checking on the plays that, you know, that he's in a position to check."

Rogers himself did not realize how high his completion percentage was until he was leaving the field at the end of the game. Speaking to reporters, he talked about how he felt during the game.

"I was just trying to do my job one play at a time. Everybody else around me was doing their job really well," Rogers said.

Mississippi State University will be back in action next Saturday when they travel to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks.

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