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Benny Snell and Kentucky’s Defense Dominate No. 14 Mississippi State

Benny Snell and Kentucky’s Defense Dominate No. 14 Mississippi State

Kentucky is for real.

The Wildcats entered the game as ten-point underdogs and left with a 28-7 win over the fourteenth-ranked team in the country.

Benny Snell was absolutely incredible, rushing for 165 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries, but the Real MVP was the defense.  UK suffocated the nation’s No. 5 rushing offense, holding them to just 56 rushing yards and 201 total yards.

With ten minutes to play, the Kentucky defense made the play we were waiting for.  After a Josh Allen sack backed up State, Fitzgerald faced pressure on third and long.  Allen hit Fitzgerald as he threw a pass that sailed high into redshirt freshman Tyrell Ajian’s hands.  On the next snap Benny Snell went 36 yards untouched into the end zone.

Snell’s third touchdown of the day gave the Cats a 21-7 lead.  The run also moved him up in the record books.  He surpassed Mark Higgs to become fourth on the all-time rushing list and scored his 38th touchdown, bypassing Randall Cobb’s school record for total touchdowns. His fourth touchdown, a 23-yard fourth quarter dagger, tied a school record for most rushing touchdowns in a game.

Kentucky has now defeated two straight ranked opponents and the Cats are 2-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1977.

In front of an electric atmosphere at Kroger Field, the Kentucky football team gave fans a gift they never thought they’d receive — the chance to dream about an SEC Championship Game appearance.  Behind Benny Snell and this defense, anything is possible.


UK vs. Mississippi State Halftime Stats, presented by Liquor Barn

UK vs. Mississippi State Halftime Stats, presented by Liquor Barn

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It’s seven all at the end of rainy first half at Kroger Field, and although Kentucky missed some opportunities early on, they made up for it with an impressive run to end the second quarter.

Dorian Baker’s incredible catch set up Benny Snell for a two-yard touchdown with 50 seconds left in the half. The catch was so great Stevie “Got Loose” Johnson posted cell phone footage on Twitter:

Halftime Stats:


UK vs. Mississippi State LIVE BLOG, presented by Liquor Barn

UK vs. Mississippi State LIVE BLOG, presented by Liquor Barn

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Live Blog UK vs. Mississippi State, presented by Liquor Barn
 


Two Advantages Kentucky has on Mississippi State

Kentucky and Mississippi State aren’t so different.  As you saw earlier, statistically the teams mirror one another quite a bit.  However, the nine-point underdogs have a few important advantages over the nation’s No. 14 team.

Kroger Field

Kentucky’s football stadium does not have a reputation like some other SEC homes, but it will still get rowdy from time-to-time.  Tonight is one of those times.

This isn’t Mississippi State’s first road game.  The Bulldogs won on the road at Kansas State, but 11:00 a.m. in Manhattan, Kansas is incomparable to what they will experience tonight in Lexington.  There will be a buzz in the air, one State has not yet experienced under Joe Moorhead.

Close Game Experience

Miss. State won their first three games by an average of 41.3 points.  That is an incredible number.  It illustrates how they’ve physically dominated opponents and reveals they have yet to play in a close game.

Nick Fitzgerald is a senior quarterback with three years of experience as a starter, but he’s never been in a pressure-packed scenario with Joe Moorhead calling the plays.  Will Moorhead be comfortable enough to let Fitzgerald take aggressive throws?  It only takes one late mistake to give Kentucky enough momentum to win the game.

On the other hand, Kentucky’s been tested down the stretch in a hostile atmosphere.  The defense was not perfect, but when they needed a stop at Florida, Josh Allen batted away a two-point conversion.  When the offense needed a first down to milk the clock, Bunchy Stallings provided a hole for Benny Snell to run through.  Kentucky has been battled-tested and will not flinch when the game is on the line.


Kentucky-Mississippi State: Numbers you Need to Know

Kentucky-Mississippi State: Numbers you Need to Know

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky is almost a mirror image of Mississippi State on paper.  In almost every statistical category where the Bulldogs shine, you’ll find Kentucky not far behind.

Miss. State’s rushing offense leads the SEC and is ranked No. 5 in the SEC.  Kentucky is just a few spots behind, ranked 11th overall and third in the SEC.  Miss. State is the SEC’s best third down offense and second in the nation, while UK is third in the conference and No. 7 overall.  The Bulldogs’ defense allows only 259 yards per game, second in the SEC.  UK’s defense is fifth in total yards allowed with 305 per game.  Each team has nine rushes for 20 or more yards and thrown four passes for more than 40 yards.

In a game marked by similarities, the differences could decide the game’s outcome.

State has done a decent job taking care of the ball, but you cannot say the same thing about UK.  The Cats have a -3 turnover margin compared to MSU’s +1.  Kentucky must flip the script and utilize an under-appreciated advantage on special teams.  Max Duffy averages 45.7 yards per punt, good for third in the SEC.  Kentucky doesn’t have Austin MacGinnis kicking field goals, but Miles Butler has been more reliable than State’s Jace Christmann, who’s made just one of three attempts in 2018.

In a match-up between teams with similar styles of play, it all comes down to the playmakers.  Who wants it more?  Tonight we’ll discover if the Cats have big time players that can make big time plays in big games.


Five things you need to know about Kylin Hill

Five things you need to know about Kylin Hill

Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Here are five things you need to know about Mississippi State’s sophomore running back…

He is the highest running back signee for Mississippi State since 2002.

Hills is the highest running back signee for the Bulldogs since Jerious Norwood in 2002.

Hill was ranked as the No. 6 running back in the nation by 247Sports.com and No. 11 by Scout.com. He was ranked as the No. 106 overall player by Scout.com and No. 124 overall by 247Sports.com. He was considered the No. 2 overall ranked player in Mississippi and was a consensus four-star recruit.

His head coach compared him to Saquon Barkley

Mississippi State head coach and former Penn State offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead, says Hill shares some traits with his former running back Saquon Barkley.

“They combine the skills, this sounds weird, they have small back skills in a big back body — if that makes sense,” Moorhead said during an appearance on SiriusXM radio show SEC This Morning. “Both Saquon and Kylin are bigger guys, they can run between the tackles and as you saw, people bouncing off of Kylin and getting yards after contact. They possess enough shake in the open field to make people miss and as you saw catching the wheel route, they are threats out of the backfield, as well.”

His career-long TD is only 30 yards 

Hill finished his true freshman season with his best performance of the season against Ole Miss. He rushed for 82 yards on 13 carries, including a career-long touchdown of 30 yards. Ole Miss defeated Hill and the Bulldogs 31-28.

Oh, Benny Sell recorded a 71-yard touchdown against Missouri last season.

He had to slim down during the offseason

During his true freshman season, Hill weighed over 220 pounds. The Mississippi State running backs coach told Hill needed to lose weight to get more carries and become more explosive. Now Hill is down to around 210.

“The weight I lost was very much needed to get me where I am right now,” Hill said.

10 pounds. Wow. What a transformation.

He likes to tweet emojis

In case you missed it, Hill responded to Ben Roberts tweet about Benny saying “I’m going to run on any team. This offense don’t fear nobody.”

Hill responded with a lot of laughing emojis. He deleted the tweet. He scared.

Go cats.

 


UK will Rock Kentucky Blue Uniforms vs. Miss. State

While fans stripe the stadium, the players will rock Kentucky blue from head to toe.

UK announced the team will blue out their uniforms against Mississippi State.  Blue helmets, blue jerseys, blue pants, blue shoes, EVERYTHING is blue.

In the Tweet from UK, the image of a blue helmet featured the Crooked-K UK logo.  Many speculated the Cats could rock a helmet with the new Wildcat after Benny Snell posted the image below online.  The prototype helmets are blue, so maybe there’s still a chance we see those tonight for the first time…


Scouting Report: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Scouting Report: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, we are in week four as Kentucky will be hosting Mississippi State under the lights with ESPN2 in town. This one has a big game feel and the UK administration is using their best marketing strategies to fill the house.

The Wildcats have handled their business through three games and are now just one win away from cracking the top 25. In comes Joe Moorhead as he makes his first conference road trip as an SEC head coach.

Dan Mullen left Moorhead a loaded roster. The Bulldogs have a defense stocked with future pros, a good offensive line and a quarterback who is about to set the SEC rushing record. This is a legit top 15 team and State would be a College Football Playoff contender if they were an any other division.

Nuts and Bolts

After collecting a 38-13 record as the head coach at Fordham in the FCS, Joe Moorhead made the move to Penn State. Working under James Franklin, the Nittany Lions desperately needed a spark and that’s what he provided.

In his first two years as an FBS offensive coordinator, Moorhead’s group averaged over 37 points each season on their way to 21 victories and a conference championship. Penn State became one of the most feared offenses in the country and the work done was enough for Mississippi State to quickly hire him.

Moorhead takes over a program that achieved a high level of success under Dan Mullen. State went from the SEC cellar to legitimate contender. The bar has been raised and now the goal is to have this program competing for division and conference titles.

When divisions were created in the SEC in 1992, MSU drew Kentucky as its permanent opponent from the other division. Overall, State owns a 22-21 series lead and a 17-9 advantage once this series was made permanent. Eight of those 17 wins occurred under Dan Mullen. Four of the last nine meetings have been decided by one-possession.

Out in the desert, Mississippi State is currently favored by 9.5 with a total of 55.5. That’s a projected final score of 32.5-23. Since 2013, State is 3-4-1 against the spread as a double-digit conference favorite. In their last eight games against ranked foes, Mark Stoops and Kentucky are 7-1 against the spread with three straight up wins.

Offensive Breakdown

In just three games with Joe Moorhead calling the shots, the Bulldogs are averaging 50 points per game and 8.5 yards per play. These both rank in the top two in the SEC. After sitting out the first game due to a suspension, redshirt senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has performed to expectations.

The Georgia native has been responsible for eight touchdowns, is averaging 8.8 yards per carry (excluding sack yardage) and is putting up 7.6 yards per pass attempt. He’s only completing 55% of his passes but that’s not a surprise when you consider how many deep shots are taken in this scheme.

At receiver, MSU’s top two pass-catchers are both averaging over 20 yards per catch. Junior college transfer Stephen Guidry was a four-star prospect and he’s lived up to the billing with six grabs for 138 yards. Slot man Keith Mixon is State’s most efficient receiver with six grabs on six targets for 101 yards and a touchdown. In this new scheme, the Bulldogs spread the ball around.  Three tight ends, five wideouts and two running backs have recorded at least two receptions.

In the backfield, it starts with sophomore Kylin Hill who was banged up in last week’s win over Louisiana. The Mississippi native is averaging 10 yards per touch as he’s collected six touchdowns on the season. He’s an explosive back and Moorhead will get him the ball in a bunch of ways.

He’s not alone in the backfield. Senior Aeris Williams is back after rushing for over 1,00o yards as a junior. In backup duty, he’s averaging nine yards per carry and gives the Bulldogs one of the best backup running back options in the FBS.

The numbers are gaudy and Mississippi State has absolutely eviscerated some bad defenses to start the season (average S&P+ ranking of 88.5).  It all starts and ends with a very good offensive line.

The Bulldogs are led by center Elgton Jenkins who was name SEC offensive lineman of the week last weekend. The senior has 24 career starts and has played every position on the line. He sets the tone.

The guards are the strength of the group. Deion Calhoun and Darryl Williams have a combined 42 career starts. The two Alabama natives are each over 300 pounds and are both road graders in the run game. Calhoun also excels in pass coverage. He didn’t allow one sack in 2017.

Outside, MSU is a little more green with a pair of starting sophomores. Both left tackle Greg Eiland and right tackle Stewart Reese have early experience with 23 combined starts. Each is over 330 pounds and they’ve been dominant to start the season; MSU’s offense is 15th in the FBS in sack rate.

The offense is filled with experience at offensive line and quarterback, with playmakers at running back and wide receiver. This unit has excelled in the new scheme through three games. They lead the SEC in rushing by 27 yards per game and are one of the most balanced attacks in college football. They rank second in efficiency and seventh in explosiveness in the FBS per S&P+. Stopping this offense will be a tall challenge.

Defensive Breakdown

As good as it is on offense, the numbers are almost nearly as good on defense. The Bulldogs have only allowed two touchdowns in three games. On the season, State is only giving up 8.7 points per game. Their foes average just 2.5 yards per rush and 5.7 yards per pass attempt. In Starkville, it all begins with the front.

The Bulldogs made the move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 as Bob Shoop moved over from Knoxville to become MSU’s new defensive coordinator. He inherited some dudes on the line of scrimmage in junior Jeffery Simmons and senior Montez Sweat.

Simmons is the best defensive tackle in the SEC and in 2018 he’s collected 5.5 non-sack tackles for loss with double teams coming his way each game. The projected defensive end out of high school has made a seamless move to the interior of the line and he is a dominant force.

His running mate may be just as good as former Michigan State Spartan turned junior college transfer has recorded 13.5 sacks in just 16 career games. Sweat is an excellent speed rusher off of the edge and is the second best run defender on the team behind Simmons. He’s a huge reason why this team ranks 15th in the country in sack rate.

It doesn’t just stop with them, however, as the Bulldogs are a legit two deep at each position on the line. Fletcher Adams, Gerri Green, Braxton Hoyett, Kobe Jones and Chauncey Rivers are all legit SEC defensive linemen. This is the deepest group in the SEC.

At linebacker, the Bulldogs are led by sophomore Errol Thompson and junior Leo Lewis. At the second level, the Bulldogs are big and they get downhill but the second best part of their defense is in the back.

Johnathan Abram and Mark McLaurin might be the best safety duo in college football. Abram, another former junior college transfer, currently leads the team in tackles while McLaurin led the squad in 2017. These two are both fast and solid tacklers who love contact. Look for them to help out early and often in run support.

At corner, MSU will be without starter Jamal Peters due to a leg injury suffered in last week’s win. That could cause some shuffling as third safety Chris Rayford will be moved over to corner. In his first year as a full-time starter, Cameron Dantzler looks like a future all-conference performer. Another junior college transfer and former Michigan Wolverine Brian Cole is used as MSU’s nickelback. Losing Peters hurts but this is a talented secondary.

The defensive line sets the tone and they are the main reason why inferior competition has struggled so much to move the ball. They are hard to block and they’ve been very disruptive through 12 quarters of football. Teams have been able to methodically rush the ball on Mississippi State this season when they aren’t putting themselves in a hole. Much like last year with Todd Grantham, the Bulldogs can be hit with the big play due to their aggressive nature.

Special Teams Breakdown

The biggest advantage UK will have on Saturday will be in the third phase.  The Bulldogs have struggled in special teams in the first three games of the 2018 season.

Kicker Jace Christmann is just 1/3 on field goals after hitting 12/14 last season. In his first year as a starter, Tucker Day is averaging just 40 yards per punt. Kickoff specialist Scott Goodman has only produced 11 touchbacks in 25 attempts and opponents are averaging nearly 22 yards per return.

Field position has been a struggle for MSU due to the kicking game inefficiencies. There will be hidden yardage there for the taking for Kentucky. It would be a good time for Lynn Bowden to get his first big return of the season.

Keys to Victory

Since the win over South Carolina in 2014, Kentucky has faced many SEC foes at night with a big time atmosphere at Commonwealth Stadium Kroger Field. In those games, they have come down to the wire in the fourth quarter with UK eventually succumbing to the opponent. Here is what they need to do to close the door on Saturday night.

  • In two meetings, Eddie Gran’s rushing attack has ran all over Bob Shoop’s unit. UK has ran for 732 yards, eight touchdowns, and eight yards per carry in the two contests. MSU’s front will create some negative plays but UK must stay loyal to the running game. Teams have had success on State but had to abandon it early due to the deficit.
  • For the season, Kentucky’s defense has done a very good job of limiting big plays. On the year, opponents have only eight plays that have gone for over 20 yards and zero that have been for over 40 yards. These rank third and first in the SEC. Mississippi State has had 20 plays go for over 20 yards. Kentucky must have good outside pass coverage and make tackles when State gets in space on plays like this.
  • Early in the season, field position has been problematic for UK’s offense. Due to inefficiencies in returns and not getting enough three-and-outs, UK has a starting field position average of their own 28 yard line. However, MSU has not been good in field position on defense due to some of the same things. UK must take advantage of this on Saturday. Create short fields for your offense and pin MSU back as much as possible.
  • One thing that will help with the field position battle will be turnovers. For the season, UK has only forced three takeaways while Mississippi State has only lost it twice. This will be a key battle. UK must take care of the football and take advantage of the wild crowd to force some turnovers to produce significant momentum swings in the ballgame.
  • Terry Wilson is getting better with each outing but this offense needs him to connect on vertical throws. Outside of the touchdown to Lynn Bowden against Florida, UK has struck out on the home run ball and they must start to hit on them soon. Wilson’s current 6.6 yards per attempt will not be satisfactory enough to beat the best teams on the schedule. To help out the ground game and to keep the atmosphere buzzing, connecting on a few deep shots will be vital.

What the…???

I could obviously make a Starkville joke but the place they call Stark Vegas gets too much of a bad wrap. The “Hail State” motto being in the endzones of both the football stadium in basketball floor is kind of lame. But it’s the cowbell. It’s definitely the cowbell. Here’s a quick history lesson.


The College Gameday Crew Doesn’t Believe Kentucky will Beat Mississippi State

The College Gameday Crew Doesn’t Believe Kentucky will Beat Mississippi State

Nobody on the College Gameday crew is buying stock in Kentucky.  All four analysts on the ESPN pregame show picked the Cats to lose at home to Mississippi State.

Earlier in the show, there was about a three-minute segment breaking down the matchup.  Lee Corso introduced it by talking about Miss. State’s physical defense.  He said the Bulldogs will “win big.”

Desmond Howard dissected State’s defensive line with a little film.  Even though Benny Snell said after last Saturday’s game he can against any defense, Howard said it’s not happening today.

“Not only will they stop Benny Snell and the Wildcats, I think they’ll create some turnovers too.”

 

Howard is not alone.

Kirk Herbstreit had a few nice things to say about UK.   “This is a different Kentucky team. It’s not just Benny Snell, it’s not just defense.”  Herbstreit sees a different team because Terry Wilson is the Cats’ difference-maker.  His ability to make plays with his legs has turned UK into a dynamic offense.  Even though Herbie believes Terry Touchdown will make the game competitive, he also foresees a turnover at a terrible time late in the game.

“I want to pick them,” Herbstriet said, “but I think Terry Wilson will make a crucial turnover down the stretch.”