A.J. Rose ran for a career-high 148 yards, Chris Rodriguez added 84 yards and two scores and Kentucky held off No. 24 North Carolina State 23-21 in a chippy TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Saturday.
Christopher Dunn missed two field goals for the Wolfpack (8-4), who trailed 16-14 late when Bailey Hockman threw his third interception of the game. Rodriguez scored on the ensuing play, going nearly untouched for 26 yards.
NC State got a final chance after Jordan Houston scored with 1:10 remaining. But Allen Dailey recovered Dunn’s onside kick, and the Wildcats (5-6) ran out the clock. Coach Mark Stoops got a Gatorade bath following the team’s third straight bowl victory, which ended a tumultuous season that included the loss of offensive line coach John Schlarman.
Kentucky finished with 281 yards on the ground, helping offset one of the nation’s worst passing attacks. Stoops fired offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw after the team’s regular-season finale and later hired Los Angeles Rams assistant Liam Coen to fill those roles in 2021.
Kentucky’s ground game and defense did most of the work against NC State.
A big issue for the Wolfpack was playing without four defensive starters. Safety Tanner Ingle (suspended), defensive tackle Alim McNeil (opt out) and injured linebackers Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas missed the game.
Penalties were a problem for both teams. There were 11 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and several more instances where a flag could have been thrown.
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack were looking to end the season on a five-game winning streak. It would have been the first time the program had accomplished the feat since 1965. Instead, NC State will end with a loss for the fifth time in coach Dave Doeren’s eight seasons.
Kentucky: The Wildcats won their third bowl game in as many seasons for the second time in school history. They also won three straight between 2006 and 2008.
North Carolina State almost surely will fall out of the final Associated Press College Football poll, which is scheduled to be released following the College Football Championship game on Jan. 11.
Kentucky center Drake Jackson wore No. 65 to honor Schlarman, a four-year starter (1994-97) for the Wildcats. Schlarman died Nov. 12 following a two-year battle with cancer. Linemen have rotated wearing Schlarman’s number since. Jackson wore it for the third time in seven games Saturday.
North Carolina State: Junior center Grant Gibson, who played every snap in the regular season, seemingly tore a ligament in his left knee while celebrating the team’s first touchdown. Gibson and Riley jumped in unison, but Gibson crumpled 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, the Wolfpack shuffled their line for the final quarter.
Kentucky: Kentucky cornerback Brandin Echols was knocked out in the third after getting walloped by teammate Vito Tisdale. Echols, a senior, appeared to vomit on the field before getting helped to the sideline.
North Carolina State: Opens the 2021 season at home against USF on Sept. 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.