Asim Rose rushed for 148 yards on 12 carries and Kentucky rushed for 281 yards as a team as the Cats topped No. 23 N.C. State 23-21 in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Saturday at TIAA Bank Field.
The win was Kentucky’s third straight in the postseason, following a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl following the 2018 season and a win over Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl last season.
Chris Rodriguez Jr. also had a big day on the ground, carrying 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Kavosiey Smoke had 45 yards on nine rushes.
Quarterback Terry Wilson connected on 12 of 20 through the air for 99 yards and rushed six times for 14 yards for the Cats.
On defense, Jamin Davis was huge in this game, as he has been all season. Davis had 13 tackles, including a half tackle for loss and an interception, one of three UK picks in the win.
Kentucky (5-6) took the opening drive and controlled the ball for nine minutes, running 16 plays on the game’s first possession. The drive featured nine runs and six passes as the Cats kept the Wolfpack off balance, eventually getting inside the N.C. State 10. But the drive stalled and the Cats settled for a 25-yard field goal by Matt Ruffolo. That field goal gave the Cats a 3-0 lead with 6:00 left in the first quarter.
The Wolfpack started their first drive at their own 41 yard line. After getting one first down, quarterback Bailey Hockman was intercepted by UK’s Brandin Echols, who returned it to the UK 43.
UK took over with 4:29 left in the first and went back to the ground, getting a first down on the drive’s first play on a 12-yard Smoke carry. The Cats would eventually face a fourth-and-1 from the N.C. State 29, but Rodriguez was stopped and the Wolfpack took over with 2:02 still remaining in the first.
N.C. State (8-4) would not do anything with the possession, which ended with Hockman being sacked by Davis and Josh Paschal. The Wolfpack would punt and Kentucky got the ball with four seconds left in the first. The Cats would lead 3-0 after 15 minutes of play.
After the teams exchanged punts, Kentucky mounted another drive into N.C. State territory, keyed by a 47-yard run from Rose, who was named the game MVP. Smoke carried the ball 18 yards to the N.C. State four and Rodriguez took it in from there for the game’s first touchdown. Ruffolo added the PAT and Kentucky led 10-0 with 6:23 to play in the first half.
N.C. State would string together its best drive of the half with its next possession. The Wolfpack covered 52 yards and got into UK territory, but the Kentucky defense held and forced aa 40-yard field goal attempt from Christopher Dunn, but the kick was blocked by UK’s Tyrell Ajian.
Kentucky took over with 1:23 to play in the half and the Cats quickly got into scoring position. Rose rushed for 31 yards on the first play of the drive, followed by a 17-yard completion from Wilson to Allen Dailey Jr. The Cats would get inside the NCSU five where Wilson connected with Dailey for an apparent touchdown. But an illegal formation penalty negated the touchdown and the Cats would settle for a 25-yard Ruffolo field goal to take a 13-0 lead with two seconds left in the half. The Cats would take that lead into the break.
N.C. State got the ball to start the third quarter and drove it into Kentucky territory. The Wolfpack went 43 yards in 11 plays, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed the Wolfpack back and Dunn missed a 42-yard field goal.
After a Kentucky punt, N.C. State drove again, getting inside the Kentucky 10 yard line. The Wolfpack would face a fourth-and-six from the UK nine when Hockman hit C.J. Riley for the touchdown. Dunn added the PAT and UK’s lead was cut to 13-7 with 2:56 left in the third quarter. The third quarter would end with that score.
In the fourth quarter, after a Kentucky punt, Yusuf Corker picked off a Hockman pass, giving UK the ball at the NCSU 37. From there, the Cats kept it on the ground, with Rodriguez rushing for five and seven yards, then Rose carrying 27 yards to the Wolfpack three yard line. But the Cats could not punch it in and were forced into a 20-yard field goal, that Ruffolo converted, and UK led 16-7 with 5:45 to play.
On the ensuing drive, Kentucky was penalized 30 yards on the kickoff return, giving N.C. State the ball at the UK 37. Three plays later, the Wolfpack’s Zonovan Knight took it in from 13 yards out. Dunn’s PAT made it 16-14 Cats with 4:46 to play.
The Cats were forced to punt on their next possession and N.C. State took over at their own 20. On the first play of the drive, Hockman was picked off when DeAndre Square tipped the ball and Davis intercepted the pass and returned it to the Wolfpack 26. On the first play of the UK drive, Rodrguez took it to the house, his second touchdown of the day. Ruffolo added the PAT and the Cats led 23-14 with 2:51 to play.
N.C. State would not give up. The Wolfpack covered 65 yards in seven plays and just 1:41 off the clock. Jordan Houston finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown rush and Dunn made the PAT to make it 23-21 Cats with 1:10 to play.
The Wolfpack would try an onside kick but Dailey would recover and Kentucky took over at the N.C. State 49. From there, the Cats would kneel three times to seal the victory.