Cats unable to contain Fitzerald in loss to MSU

Published 12:55 pm Sunday, October 22, 2017

Kentucky had no answers for Nick Fitzgerald.

The Mississippi State quarterback rushed for 115 yards and threw for 155 more to lead the Bulldogs to a 45-7 win over the Wildcats on Saturday in Starkville.

Fitzgerald rushed for a pair of touchdowns and zig-zagged his way through Kentucky’s defense, which surrendered 441 yards, including 282 yards rushing against the Bulldogs, who defeated the Wildcats for the eighth-time in the past nine games. Fitzgerald also threw for two touchdowns to keep the Wildcats off balance.

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The loss was the first blowout of the year and road loss for Kentucky, which hasn’t won at Davis-Wade Stadium since 2008. The Bulldogs converted 25 first downs and were 12 for 18 on third-down conversions. Mississippi State also were 2-of-3 on fourth-down opportunities.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said the loss was not acceptable and offered no excuses for his team’s poor performance.

“We didn’t play winning football,” he said. “I didn’t coach well enough and they took care of business from the beginning of the game to the end. They were the more physical team. Generally when you’re that much more physical than your opponent, you win the game. That was the case tonight. I give them credit, they really played well. They are a very well-coached football team.

Coming off a bye week, Kentucky (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) struggled to contain Fitzgerald and failed to get on track offensively. The Wildcats managed just 260 yards and were held to 115 yards rushing. After scoring its first touchdown of the game that made the score 10-7 it was all Mississippi State as the hosts scored 38 unanswered and rolled to victory.

“They flat out beat us,” Stoops said. “You accept it. There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide in this business. There is nowhere for them to run and hide. They whooped us, that is the way it is. You have to accept it. We all have to look in the mirror and look at ourselves. We have to look at every aspect of our situation in the mirror and see where we can get better. We have to give Mississippi State credit for beating our tails. That is the way it is.”

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson threw for 117 yards, but threw an interception in the third quarter that proved to be costly as the Bulldogs converted the miscue into a touchdown.

Johnson tossed another interception in the fourth quarter that was returned 84 yards for a touchdown. Johnson had thrown just two interceptions in the first six games and equaled that total against the Bulldogs. Johnson led all UK rushers with 54 yards. Benny Snell, the Wildcats’ leading rusher, finished with a season-low 18 yards and his largest gain went for just five yards.

Drew Barker replaced Johnson in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter and completed one of two passes for 28 yards.

Kentucky was seeking an elusive sixth victory to open the second half of the season, but have five more games remaining to reach bowl eligibility for the second straight year. Three of Kentucky’s next five games are at home, including next week’s contest against struggling Tennessee, which lost 45-7 at Alabama on Saturday.