The last time the Kentucky Wildcats got absolutely creamed at LSU, they came back the next week and beat Mississippi State, on the road. Their next home game was against Georgia, a game they won and was really the first big win in the Rich Brooks era. It was also the last time they went .500 in conference play. This was 2006.
Now they look to get up off the mat and standing in their way is the No. 1 team in the land, Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs are coming off of a bye week and have now had two full weeks to allow the fact that they are No. 1 to sink in a bit. But, after speaking to Charlie Burris, editor of ForWhomTheCowbellTolls.com of SB Nation, I’m not sure that their No. 1 ranking has sunk in yet.
How did Mississippi State get to No. 1? After taking care of Southern Miss, UAB, and South Alabama, they then faced the beast of their schedule, a three-game stint that featured games at LSU, and Texas A&M and Auburn at home. Win two of three and you’re still on schedule for a special season. But, then they took care of LSU on the road, a place where they hadn’t won since 1991. Heck, they hadn’t even beat LSU since 1999. Those are both streaks normally reserved for UK and their SEC opponents.
The win at LSU gave this team tremendous confidence and they rode that to home wins over A&M and Auburn. Now, after a bye week, they face the Wildcats in Lexington, as the No. 1 team in the country.
When you look at Mississippi State, the first thing you notice is their Heisman candidate quarterback, junior Dak Prescott. Prescott is a run/pass threat, the type of quarterback that has seemingly always gave UK problems. He has thrown for 1,478 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has rushed for 576 yards and eight touchdowns. He is really, really good.
As a run/pass threat, Prescott has the ability to use his eyes to hold defenders, is a great decision maker, and he has complete control of the offense. And he fits right into Dan Mullen’s scheme, just as Tim Tebow did at Florida. But, what makes him really special may be his ability to lead. He is a player that his teammates want to play for. He gets the best out of everyone.
One of those players is junior running back Josh Robinson. Robinson is a guy that many didn’t expect to explode on the scene this year, but at the midway point he has 689 yards and eight touchdowns. He is averaging 7.0 yards every time he gets a carry. At 5-foot-9, Robinson is a shorter back, but he’s wide and his low center of gravity makes him tough to tackle. That’s why his teammates call him “The Bowling Ball”.
Sophomore De’Runnya Wilson and Senior Jameon Lewis are Prescott’s two best pass catchers. At 6-foot-5 with a monster wingspan, Wilson is a huge target. He has the ability to make plays when the pass isn’t even there. Lewis has missed the last two games with a leg injury, but after the bye week he is expected to be 100-percent on Saturday.
The biggest problem area for Mississippi State has been their secondary. They allowed 435 passing yards against UAB. 288 to South Alabama. 341 to LSU. 365 to Texas A&M. If there is an area where the Wildcats can make hay, this is it. But, they will have to throw over the top and that is not something we have seen a ton of from UK. A lot of the passing yards that the Bulldogs have allowed have been because teams have been able to go over the top for the big play.
As bad as their secondary has been, their front seven is as good as any in the country. And the best way to take pressure off of their corners is to get pressure on the quarterback. Something they have been really good at. Over and over again, they have found a way to force opposing quarterbacks into bad decisions.
Junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney is the leader of the defense. Three adjectives to define McKinney are dynamic, fast, and huge and he has an uncanny knack to get to the quarterback. Sophomore Chris Jones and Senior Preston Brown are the strengths of their defensive line. Both are deceptively quick and Smith was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week the first three weeks of the season.
Now in his sixth year at Mississippi State, Mullen has created the depth needed to sustain success in the SEC. They lost Lewis for a few weeks at wide receiver and their depth allowed them to not really skip a beat. And they are deep like that at multiple positions, especially the front seven on defense.
Can the Wildcats pull off the upset against Mississippi? Yeah. But, it’s going to be crazy tough. This Mississippi State team is deep and talented. And they see the potential greatness that this season beholds. A loss at UK would put a screeching halt to that. So while the possibility of them overlooking Kentucky is there, don’t expect it.
UK has to get off to a better start. Their starts have been an issue the last three games. They were able to overcome that against USC and Louisiana-Monroe at home, but last week never really got things going against LSU on the road. Well, the Bulldogs have been the exact opposite. They have gotten off to quick starts, which have helped propel them to wins over quality opponents. They jumped out to a 14-0 lead at LSU in the first quarter, a 28-10 lead against A&M at half, and a 21-0 lead over Auburn in the first quarter. If UK digs a whole like that, it’s lights out.
The main reason for UK’s poor start last week was their special teams. That has to be better against MSU. They have to get more from the ground game, which will be a real challenge. I look for maybe Mikel Horton to get more touches.
I know the Air Raid is all about getting skill guys the football in open spaces and not necessarily trying to beat them downfield. But, that didn’t work last week against LSU and I don’t think it will work against MSU either. Covering the deep ball is an area of concern for the Bulldogs. To win the game, the Cats will have to beat them for a couple big plays.
Defensively, they aren’t going to keep the Bulldogs in check completely, but they have to slow down the ground game. Make Prescott be a passer and don’t let Robinson get rolling downhill.
The Cats will look better than last week. I mean, they can’t look worse. They will look considerably better. They will score multiple touchdowns. But, they still won’t win. It could happen, but I think a lot of us jumped the gun on how good this UK team is. They are better. They are improving. They will compete. But, they aren’t a team that can beat the No. 1 team in the land. Not yet.
Mississippi State 34, Kentucky 23