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Kentucky wins a chippy Gator Bowl against NC State

The Wildcats came in with a below .500 record but leaned on their ground game and came out with a win over the Wolfpack.

Signage is displayed for TaxSlayer Gator Bowl game between the Kentucky Wildcats and the North Carolina State Wolfpack at TIAA Bank Field on January 02, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

While you were wrapping your head around Texas needing a new head coach, a Gator Bowl broke out between the Kentucky Wildcats and NC State Wolfpack on Saturday. This was about as chippy as it gets and while it got interesting late, Kentucky handled NC State in a 23-21 win.

Kentucky went into this game averaging the least amount of passing yards per game among Power 5 teams by a fairly significant margin, and the Wildcats kept the ball on the ground to massive success especially in the first half. Maybe it’s the Big Ten in me, but there’s something beautiful about a game where everybody knows a run is coming, and there’s nothing the defense can do to stop it.

The Wildcats finished this game with 281 rushing yards. Asim Rose Jr. carried the ball 12 times for 148 yards, while Chris Rodriguez Jr. put up 84 yards on 17 carries with a pair of touchdowns.

Kentucky spent a full nine minutes on its opening possession and went 68 yards on 16 plays, ending with a field goal. The game remained 3-0 till midway through the second quarter when Rodriguez scored from four yards out.

NC State put together a decent drive late in the first half, but it resulted in a missed field goal. On the ensuing possession, Kentucky had a touchdown called back and settled for a field goal to make it a 13-0 halftime deficit, as the Wildcats outgained NC State 253-87 in the first half of play.

The Wolfpack put together a solid drive to start the second half, but once again it ended with a missed field goal. After a defensive stop, NC State got on the board late in the third quarter on nine-yard touchdown reception for C.J. Riley on fourth-and-6.

Following an interception, Kentucky capitalized with a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game. Aided by three 15-yard penalties the Wolfpack marched down the field quickly and cut the lead to two on a 13-yard rushing touchdown for Zonovan Knight.

NC State made a stop and had the ball trailing 16-14 with a little more than 3 minutes left, but Bailey Hockman’s pass was tipped into the air and intercepted by Jamin Davis. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Rodriguez scored from 26 yards out to make it a 23-14 advantage.

The Wolfpack scored quickly to cut it back to 23-21 on a two-yard touchdown run for Jordan Houston, but Kentucky recovered the onside kick to seal it.

Kentucky came in favored by 3.5 points, so NC State ended up covering the spread, and point total is a little deceiving as 24 points were scored in the final 5:45 of the game, but it came pretty close as it was set at 50 heading into this game.

Kentucky finishes their season with a 5-6 record, while the NC State football program continues to be the most 8-4 team in college football.