Saturday was a historic one for Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops . As a result of the 45-10 win over Louisiana-Monroe Stoops became only the second coach in UK football history to win 50 games. The other of was Bear Bryant who notched 60. Of course not every win is created equal. So which are the best of the best? Let’s count them down as we begin Ranking Mark Stoops’ Best Wins.
The Ten Best From 50 Wins
Three In A Row
#10- Kentucky 23- North Carolina State 21- TaxSlayer Gator Bowl- January 2, 2021
Through the difficulties of COVID and an All-SEC schedule the Cats still managed to make a fifth straight bowl game. With offensive coordinators Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw no longer on staff Stoops turned to Vince Marrow to run the offense. While he threw in a few wrinkles when it came down to it the Cats did what they do best, run the football. Led by Gator Bowl MVP A.J. Rose, who ran for a career-high 148 yards, Kentucky ran for 281 yards total. In addition to Rose Christopher Rodriguez added 84 yards and two touchdowns.
However in true Kentucky football fashion, the Wolfpack made things interesting with a furious fourth-quarter comeback. With the Cats clinging to a 16-14 lead Jamin Davis picked off Bailey Hockman. On the next play, Rodriquez went 26 yards putting the Cats up 23-14. However, Hockman led NC State down the field with Jordan Houston taking it the final two. With long-suffering Kentucky fans saying “oh no, not again” as they waited for the onside kick. But the fears quickly subsided as Allen Dailey Jr. caught the kick and the Cats ran out the clock. The win gave Kentucky a third straight bowl win for only the second time in history.
Governor’s Cup Blowout
#9- Kentucky 45- Louisville 13- November 30, 2019
In their last two meetings the Wildcats have outscored the Cardinals by a 101-23 margin. As a result you could put either one of the wins on this list. However due to the historic nature of the win we’re going the most recent game.
In his final home game at Kentucky Lynn Bowden saved the best for last. The Paul Hornung Award winner rushed 22 times for 284 yards and four touchdowns as the Cats retained the Governor’s Cup for a second straight year. The 284 yards are the most ever by a quarterback in Southeastern Conference history. Furthermore he was only 15 yards off the school record of 299 set by Moe Williams against South Carolina in 1995.
One week after Kentucky set a school record with 462 yards rushing they topped that with 517 against Louisville. It was the third straight game going over 400 yards for the Kentucky offense, most by any FBS school in 2019. In addition the Cats broke their single season rushing record of 3,124 set back in 1974.
An Improbable Win
#8- Kentucky 15- Missouri 14- October 27, 2018
The Wildcats mustered little offense against the Tigers and found themselves trailing 14-3 at the half. However led by Josh Allen, the Kentucky defense held Drew Lock and the powerful Missouri offense to eight straight three and outs in the second half.
With five minutes to go in the game Lynn Bowden took a punt 67 yards to the house. However the Cats missed the try for two leaving the margin at five. Another punt backed Kentucky up to their own 19 yard line. Quarterback Terry Wilson calmly led the Cats down the field to the 10 yard line.
On the game’s final play Wilson’s pass to Ahmad Wagner fell incomplete. However Missouri was whistled for pass interference giving the Cats one more play. Wilson hit C.J. Conrad for the score on the extra play giving Kentucky an improbable win. That win led to quite the celebration in the locker room.
Taking off from Columbia like… 😼 pic.twitter.com/WZd1OERRnM
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 28, 2018
We are about one third of the way through ranking Mark Stoops’ best wins. Our next game takes us back to his early days at Kentucky.
“Superior No More”
#7- Kentucky 45- South Carolina 38- October 4, 2014
Many of these games involve a huge Kentucky comeback and this one is no different. Following a 26 yard run by Mike Davis the Wildcats trailed 38-24 early in the fourth quarter. However Carolina would not score again as the Cats ran off 21 straight points.
Two touchdown runs by Jojo Kemp tied the game at 38 with a little over two minutes remaining. On the ensuing possession Bud Dupree picked off a Dylan Thompson pass running it back six yards to give the Cats the lead. Carolina had one last chance but Ashley Lowery picked off Thompson to seal the win.
The win was the first major win at Kentucky for Stoops and his first over Steve Spurrier. Since then Kentucky’s won six of seven against Carolina after losing 10 of the previous 11.
Rocky Top Rout
#6- Kentucky 34- Tennessee 7- October 7, 2020
Over the years Kentucky’s streak of futility against their neighbors to the south is almost as frustrating at the one to Florida. However on this day they broke through winning for the first time in Knoxville. Not only did they break a 17 game road losing streak they did it emphatically. The Cats forced four turnovers including two interception returns for a touchdown as they totally dominated the Vols. Terry Wilson completed 12 of 15 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in leading the Cats to victory. Following the game offensive line coach John Schlarman was awarded the game ball. Sadly it was the last game he coached at Kentucky.
The Best Bowl
#5- Kentucky 35- Virginia Tech 30- Belk Bowl- December 31, 2019
In the days leading up to the game, there was some bad blood between the Cats and Hokies. It reached a boiling point when the two teams got into it during pregame warm-ups. As a result, the tensions led to the best bowl game of last season.
In the early part of the game, it appeared as Virginia Tech’s plan worked. The Cats were out of sync trailing 17-14 at the half. Still behind 30-24 late in the fourth quarter Lynn Bowden led the Cats on a drive for the ages.
Taking over at their own 15-yard line Kentucky went on an 18 play drive taking up over eight minutes. In addition, they completed two fourth downs to keep the drive alive. That set the stage for the winning play. Originally the pass was to go to Ahmad Wagner, the Cats’ best threat, near the goal line. However, Bowden called an audible and found Josh Ali for the winning score.
We’re halfway through ranking Mark Stoops’ best wins. Had the Cats not won this next game the UK head man may not be in Lexington right now.
Job Saving Victory
#4- Kentucky 40- Mississippi State 38- October 22, 2016
The Wildcats got off to a slow start in the 2016 season. As a result there were rumblings about Stoops‘ job security.
Interesting. Marty Smith on the Finebaum show said Mark Stoops told him he knew he’d be fired if UK didn’t beat Miss. State in 2016.
— Derek Terry (@DerekSTerry) July 17, 2018
The game was a tight back and forth affair and the Cats took a 34-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. However the Bulldogs battled back and took a 38-37 lead with just over a minute to go.
Quarterback Stephen Johnson marched the Cats down the field. With nine seconds remaining he hit Jeff Badet with an 18 yard pass down to the Mississippi State 33 yard line. From there Austin MacGinnis nailed a 51 yard field goal giving the Cats an improbable victory.
Not only did the win possibly save Stoops’ job but it was the first win ever for Kentucky over a Dan Mullen coached team. You think the Cats couldn’t top that victory. However you would be wrong.
Four Touchdown Underdog
#3- Kentucky 41- Louisville 38- November 26, 2016
Leading up to the final game of the 2016 season Kentucky had lost five straight in the Battle for the Governor’s Cup. In addition, the Cats came in as a four-touchdown underdog against Heisman winner Lamar Jackson.
With the game tied at 38, Jackson led Louisville deep into Kentucky territory for a game-winning score. However, he fumbled and Courtney Love recovered at the 10-yard line. From there Johnson moved the Cats into field goal position. “Mr. Clutch” Austin MacGinnis hit a 47-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining giving the Cats the upset in one of the series’ best games.
Stephen Johnson threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns against the Cardinals defense while Jackson amassed 452 yards of total offense. However, Jackson’s four turnovers proved costly. Kentucky broke a five-game losing streak to U of L and secured their first seven-win season since 2009.
It’s eight down and two to go in our countdown ranking Mark Stoop’s best wins. You can probably guess the top two but if not here we go.
Not Since The 1950’s
#2- Kentucky 27- Penn State 24- 2019 Citrus Bowl- January 1, 2019
Twenty years to the day of their last New Year’s Day bowl the Wildcats once again played in Florida. Kentucky again played Penn State, this time in the Citrus Bowl. Behind huge games from Benny Snell and Lynn Bowden, the Cats jumped out to a 27-7 lead. However, they had to fight off a huge Nittany Lion comeback to preserve the win.
Snell ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns and set the all-time school record for yards with 3,873. In addition to returning a punt for a touchdown, Bowden had five catches for 84 yards. Josh Allen, playing his last game for Kentucky, had three sacks and blocked a field goal. The victory marked only the third time in school history Kentucky won 10 games in a season. The other two times were 1950 and 1977. In addition the victory was the Cats’ first New Year’s Day win since the 1952 Cotton Bowl when they knocked off TCU.
Breaking The Streak
#1- Kentucky 27- Florida 16- September 8, 2018
For 31 years and in every way possible Kentucky found a way to lose to the Gators. However, in a total shock to college football, they finally broke through. Behind 175 yards from Benny Snell and a huge game from Terry Wilson, the Cats beat Florida. Playing in only his second college game Wilson had 256 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.
Not only did the Wildcats break the current longest losing streak against one opponent but they won in Gainesville for the first time since 1979. The victory catapulted UK to the first 10 win season in 41 years. Furthermore, with this win Stoops cemented his legacy at Kentucky as the coach who broke “The Streak.”
Five That Just Missed
With any list there’s always room for discussion. To that end here’s five more games that could have made the list. South Carolina- 2015, Tennessee- 2017, Mississippi State- 2018 and 2020 and Arkansas 2019.
Do you agree or disagree with our rankings. Drop a comment below or on our Twitter page. Thanks for ranking Mark Stoops’ best wins with us here at Last Word On College Football.