Defense helps No. 20 Kentucky outlast Middle Tennessee 34-23
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Mike Edwards had two takeaways leading to Kentucky’s first two touchdowns and the No. 20 Wildcats made several fourth-quarter defensive stops for a 34-23 escape of Middle Tennessee on Saturday.
Kentucky (8-3) ended a two-game slide but had to survive the Blue Raiders’ rally to 31-23 early in the fourth. Wildcats senior linebacker Josh Allen sacked Brent Stockstill for a 7-yard loss on fourth down and set up Miles Butler’s 32-yard field goal with 4:01 remaining.
A face mask penalty helped the Blue Raiders (7-4) reach the Kentucky 5-yard line in the final minute before consecutive sacks of Stockstill by Allen and Jamar Watson totaling 16 yards ended that final chance. Allen’s two sacks made him the Wildcats’ single season (13) and career sacks leader (27.5) as he finished with a career-best 15 tackles.
Edwards provided the initial defensive boost by returning an interception 66 yards for a TD 1:27 into the contest before stripping Zack Rush of the ball on the next drive to set up Benny Snell Jr. for the first of his two TDs for the cushion Kentucky eventually needed to earn its eighth win for the first time since 2007.
Stockstill completed 30 of 33 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns and Chaton rushed for 98 yards and two scores. But those turnovers forced MTSU to play catch up as its four-game winning streak ended.
Kentucky should stay in the Top 25 despite the close game.
Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders outgained Kentucky 392-324 and seemed poised to tie the game late, but couldn’t break through deep in Wildcats territory. Those turnovers on their first two possessions dug a quick hole they couldn’t climb from.
Kentucky: The Wildcats needed a lift, though it was tense. They finally surpassed 20 points for the first time since beating South Carolina 24-10 on Sept. 29. The offense and defense stalled, before the Southeastern Conference’s sacks leader came up with stops that sealed the win.
Middle Tennessee hosts UAB on Saturday in a meeting of Conference USA division leaders.
Kentucky visits in-state Louisville on Saturday night in search of a nine-win season and second rivalry win in three seasons.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25