Rodriguez’s 2 TD runs push No. 22 Kentucky past Miss. State

Oct 15, 2022, 8:24 AM | Updated: 9:58 pm
Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square (5) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a Mississippi S...

Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square (5) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a Mississippi State pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

(AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

              Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square (5) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a Mississippi State pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Mississippi State wide receiver Austin Williams (85) falls into the end zone for a touchdown while being guarded by Kentucky defensive back Tyrell Ajian (6) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. celebrates scoring a touchdown against Mississippi State during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) is tackled into the end zone for a touchdown by Mississippi State defensive end Jordan Davis during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square (5) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a Mississippi State pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Mississippi State wide receiver Austin Williams (85) falls into the end zone for a touchdown while being guarded by Kentucky defensive back Tyrell Ajian (6) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. celebrates scoring a touchdown against Mississippi State during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) is tackled into the end zone for a touchdown by Mississippi State defensive end Jordan Davis during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Mississippi State linebacker Nathaniel Watson (14) brings down Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Mississippi State cornerback Emmanuel Forbes celebrates after a fumble by Kentucky during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Mississippi State safety Collin Duncan (19) forces a fumble by Kentucky wide receiver Rahsaan Lewis (19) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Mississippi State linebacker Nathaniel Watson (14) brings down Kentucky running back Kavosiey Smoke (0) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Kentucky defensive back Carrington Valentine, right, sacks Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops calls out to an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach looks up at the scoreboard during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Kentucky wide receiver Dane Key, right, makes a diving catch while being chased down by Mississippi State cornerback Emmanuel Forbes (13) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers looks for an open receiver during the first half an NCAA college football game against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) celebrates after converting on fourth down against Mississippi State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
            
              Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) asks for a play call from his coaches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Challenged by Mark Stoops to do better, No. 22 Kentucky rebounded from a sluggish outing with a performance the coach knew it was capable of.

Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushed for 196 yards and two fourth-quarter scores, Will Levis returned from a one-game absence to throw a go-ahead touchdown pass and the Wildcats topped No. 16 Mississippi State 27-17 on Saturday night to halt a two-game slide.

Rodriguez had a career high with 30 carries and a season high in yardage in his third game back from a suspension. He rushed for touchdowns of 16 and 7 yards and became the fourth Kentucky player to break 3,000 career. The Wildcats (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) sorely needed his second score for insurance, coming right after Emmanuel Forbes returned an interception 59 yards for a touchdown to get the Bulldogs (5-2, 2-2) within 20-17.

“It means a lot getting 3,000,” Rodriguez said. “I was not thinking about it. I was wondering why everyone was congratulating me, the game is not over. And then I saw it on the Jumbotron.”

“That running back pounded us,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said about Rodriguez. “We didn’t tackle very well. The offensive line took turns getting penalties. All of this is my fault because I call the offense.”

Levis started after missing last week’s 24-14 loss to South Carolina with a left foot injury and began promisingly, even though Kentucky had only a field goal to show for it in a 3-3 first half marred by 16 combined penalties for 124 yards. His 33-yard completion to Barion Brown led to a go-ahead field goal in the third quarter, but he landed hard on his left (non-throwing) shoulder after being hit while throwing and went to the locker room for examination.

The Wildcats QB was cheered when he returned to the sideline, which occurred as the Bulldogs kicked the point after.

“It was cool seeing the fans react the way they did,” said Levis, whose left arm was in a sling afterward. “Didn’t realize it was the extra point.”

Levis was back in for the next possession and eventually threaded a 3-yard touchdown pass to Rahsaan Lewis on fourth down to put Kentucky up 13-10 with 4:10 remaining in the third. Rodriguez bulled ahead to make it 20-10 with 11:43 left, and Kentucky had a chance to extend its lead before Levis threw the interception that got the Bulldogs close.

Forbes had it read right away and jumped the route for an easy pickoff. It was his second pick-six in three games and the fifth of his career, tying an SEC record.

Levis quickly regrouped to hit Dekel Crowdus with a 50-yard strike, and Rodriguez dragged several defenders with him on the next play for the clinching TD run that was upheld on review.

The All-SEC first team selection has steadily built toward this performance upon returning and seemed unstoppable once he got up to speed.

“I felt like I was one missed tackle from breaking one,” said Rodriguez, whose total included a 47-yard run. “On the last touchdown, I thought the offensive line that was pushing me until I saw it was defensive players trying to tackle me.”

Levis finished 17 of 23 passing for 230 yards to outdo record-breaking MSU counterpart Will Rogers, who was 25 of 37 for 203 and a 1-yard TD to Austin Williams.

FLAG DAY

This game was notable for the number and yardage lost to penalties by both teams. MSU was flagged 13 times for 109 yards, with blame shared on both sides of the line. Kentucky was whistled 11 times for 81 yards.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Mississippi State should remain ranked, albeit a couple spots lower after its winning streak ended. Kentucky will remain ranked after redeeming itself.

THE TAKEAWAY

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs entered the game clicking in all phases and averaging over 40 points during their three-game winning streak. Everything came to a screeching halt as they reached the end zone just once, and that was midway through the third period. The ground game managed just 22 yards.

Kentucky: The Wildcats looked more whole with Levis back and Rodriguez adding another solid performance. Their defense bounced back big time from a flat second half last week, pressuring Rogers and limiting his receivers’ space after the catch. Matt Ruffolo missed a 51-yard field goal, but converted from 28 and 37 yards for points his team needed. Amazingly, their 478 yards from scrimmage were evenly split passing and running.

“I didn’t know the outcome going into this game, but I knew we would play like that, like we play,” Stoops said. “Tough, resilient, together and play hard like we do. And that we’d respond.”

UP NEXT

Mississippi State: At No. 3 Alabama on Saturday.

Kentucky: At No. 6 Tennessee on Oct. 29.

___

More AP college football:

https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Tiger Woods tips his hat to the crowd during a match between Serena Williams and Anett Konta...
Associated Press

Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — Tiger Woods was out before he was officially back, withdrawing Monday from his Hero World Challenge with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. The Hero World Challenge was to be the start of a December in golf ruled by Woods, who also has a made-for-television match next weekend, followed by the […]
2 days ago
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup ...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: World Cup highlights from Day 9

Highlights from the ninth day of the World Cup in Qatar on Monday. ___ AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
2 days ago
Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze watches as players warm up prior to an NCAA college football game ag...
Associated Press

Auburn hires Liberty’s Hugh Freeze, who’s coming back to SEC

Auburn is hiring Liberty coach Hugh Freeze to take over the football program, more than five years after his resignation from SEC Western Division rival Mississippi amid both personal and NCAA scandals. A person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Monday that Freeze has signed a memorandum of understanding with the […]
2 days ago
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup ...
Associated Press

Portugal advances to last 16, beats Uruguay 2-0 at World Cup

LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo wheeled away in celebration, acting as though he had scored yet another goal at the World Cup. Not this time. Instead, it was Bruno Fernandes eventually credited with the goal that set up Portugal’s 2-0 win over Uruguay on Monday, advancing the team into the last 16. Fernandes curled […]
2 days ago
FILE - Jackson State coach Deion Sanders gets his team's attention during the Southern Heritage Cla...
Associated Press

Deion Sanders says report of job offer from Colorado is true

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Deion Sanders said Monday that a report stating Colorado has offered him its head coaching job is true and he has also received interest from other schools. The Jackson State coach didn’t say whether he’s considering any of the opportunities, including trying to turn around the Buffaloes’ beleaguered program. Sanders didn’t […]
2 days ago
A pitch invader runs onto the pitch with a rainbow flag during the World Cup group H soccer match b...
Associated Press

Protestor with rainbow flag runs onto field at World Cup

LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — A protestor ran onto the field Monday carrying a rainbow flag and wearing a blue Superman T-shirt that said “SAVE UKRAINE” on the front and “RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMAN” on the back during a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay. Security officials chased the protestor down and the flag was […]
2 days ago
Rodriguez’s 2 TD runs push No. 22 Kentucky past Miss. State