Jan 2, 2021; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Kentucky Wildcats running back Asim Rose Jr. (10) carries the ball as North Carolina State Wolfpack cornerback Isaac Duffy (33) closes in during the second quarter at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

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Rodriguez lifts Kentucky past No. 23 NC State in Gator Bowl

Chris Rodriguez Jr. ran for two touchdowns and Kentucky’s defense intercepted three passes in a 23-21 win over No. 23 North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl on Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville, Fla.

Asim Rose Jr., who carried the ball 12 times, gained 104 of his 148 rushing yards in first half for Kentucky (5-6). Rodriguez posted 84 rushing yards on 17 attempts.

Terry Wilson completed 12 of 20 passes for 99 yards for the Wildcats.

NC State’s Bailey Hockman went 27 of 40 for 268 yards with three interceptions. The Wolfpack lost two starting offensive linemen to injuries during the game.

Jamin Davis picked off Hockman on the first play after the Wolfpack regained possession with 3:11 to play. On the next play, Rodriguez ran 26 yards for an insurance touchdown.

It was a good thing for the Wildcats because NC State scored on Jordan Houston’s 2-yard run with 1:10 remaining. Kentucky recovered an onside kick to effectively end the game.

NC State (8-4), which had a four-game winning streak snapped, also ended the 2018 season with a loss in the Gator Bowl.

Matt Ruffolo’s 20-yard field goal with 5:45 to play in the fourth quarter extended Kentucky’s lead to 16-7. But two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the Wildcats on the ensuing kickoff and a roughing-the-passer flag on the next play set up Zonovan Knight’s 13-yard touchdown run.

The Wildcats, who’ve won three straight bowl games, appeared in position to hold an opponent to a single-digit point total for the second time this season. The other came in their first victory, a 24-2 win over Mississippi State on Oct. 10.

NC State’s first touchdown came late in the third quarter on a fourth-and-6 snap, with Hockman scrambling and hooking up with C.J. Riley for a 9-yard play.

Kentucky dominated most of the first half, but led only 13-0. Ruffolo connected on a 25-yard field goal in the first quarter. Rodriguez ran 6 yards for a touchdown and Ruffolo had another field goal in the second quarter.

The Wildcats held a 253-87 edge in total offense in the first half.

NC State’s most encouraging drive of the half concluded with Christopher Dunn’s field-goal attempt from 40 yards out partially blocked with 1:11 remaining – keeping the score at 10-0. That possession lasted 14 plays, accounting for the team’s 28 total first-half offensive plays.

Kentucky then marched to the NC State 2-yard line before a penalty and Ruffolo’s 26-yard field goal with two seconds left.

Dunn missed a 43-yarder to end the opening possession of the second half.

Before the game, NC State announced that four starters on defense — defensive tackle Alim McNeill, linebackers Drake Thomas and Payton Wilson and safety Tanner Ingle — would not play on Saturday. Wilson, who is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s leader tackler, and Thomas are injured and Ingle is suspended (because of multiple targeting infractions).

–Field Level Media

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