J ACKSONVILLE, Fla. – AJ Rose rushed for a career-high 148 yards, Chris Rodriguez added 84 yards and two touchdowns and Kentucky held off No. 23 North Carolina state 23-21 in a TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Saturday.
Christopher Dunn missed two field goals for Wolfpack (8-4), trailing 16-14 at the end when Bailey Hickman threw his third interception of the game. Rodriguez scored on the next play, almost untouched for 26 yards.
NC State had one last chance after Jordan Houston scored with 1:10 to play. But Allen Dailey recovered Dunn’s sidekick and the Wildcats (5-6) ran out of time. Coach Mark Stoops received a Gatorade bath following the team’s third straight victory, which ended a tumultuous season that included the loss of offensive line coach John Chairman.
Kentucky finished with 281 rushing yards, which helped offset one of the worst air attacks in the country. Stoops fired offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterback coach Darin Hinshaw after the team’s regular season finale and then hired Los Angeles Rams assistant Liam Coen to fill those roles in 2021.
Kentucky’s running game and defense did most of the work against NC State.
A big problem for Wolfpack was playing without four defensive starters. Safety Tanner Ingle (suspended), defensive tackle Alim McNeil (opting out) and injured linebackers Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas missed the game.
Penalties were a problem for both teams. There were 11 penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct and several other cases where a flag could have been thrown.
THE T AKEOFF
State of North Carolina: The Wolfpack were looking to end the season with a five-game winning streak. It would have been the first time the show accomplished the feat since 1965. Instead, NC State will end in a loss for the fifth time in eight seasons against coach Dave Dean.
Kentucky: The Wildcats won their third bowl game in as many seasons for the second time in school history. They also won three in a row between 2006 and 2008.
IMPLIC ATIONS OF THE SURVEY
The state of North Carolina will almost certainly be out of the final Associate Press College Football Poll, which is scheduled to be released after the College Football Championship game on January 11.
HONORED CO ACH
Kentucky center Drake Jackson wore No. 65 to honor Chairman, a four-year starter (1994-97) for the Wildcats. Chairman died on November 12 after a two-year battle with cancer. The linemen have rotated with Chairman’s number ever since. Jackson wore it for the third time in seven games on Saturday.
State of North Carolina: Junior center Grant Gibson, who played every snap in the regular season, apparently tore a ligament in his left knee while celebrating the team’s first touchdown. Gibson and Riley jumped in unison, but Gibson fell to the ground after his landing. … Right tackle Justin Witt injured his right ankle in the second half and did not return. Without Gibson and Witt, Wolfpack shuffled his line for the fourth quarter.
Kentucky: Kentucky cornerbacBrandingin Echols was knocked out in the third after being hit by teammate Vito Tisdale. Echols, a senior, appeared to throw up on the field before he was helped to the sideline.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
State of North Carolina: Opens the 2021 season at home against USF on September 2.
Kentucky: Opens at home against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 4. It will be 65-year-old coach Terry Bowden’s debut with the Warhawks.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.