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Cats Get Rolled in Starkville


Photo: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

What could have gone wrong did go wrong for Kentucky in Starkville. Saturday’s performance surprisingly came after a bye week which meant an extra week of preparation. The Cats were dominated in all three phases. Kentucky played its poorest game of the season when a victory could have clinched bowl eligibility and made a statement of belonging in the SEC East. Instead, it must now claw its way back after getting beaten up by Mississippi State 45-7.

It’s not that the Cats lost on the road. Kentucky was defeated by a good football team that was favored by nearly two touchdowns. Prior to the game I didn’t understand the point spread. Afterwards, I got it. Miss State may end up being the second or third best team in the West. It’s the manner in which UK was smacked around along both lines of scrimmage that signaled alarms. On October 21st 2017, the Bulldogs were just plain faster, stronger, smarter, more physical, better coached, and well; you get the picture.

OFFENSE

59 plays, 260-yards, 14 first downs produced just 7 points. It also gave up 7 tackles for loss and 3 quarterback sacks. Time of possession: Miss St 34:49, Kentucky 25:11.

UK was whipped up front, dropped passes, had very little running back generated rushing attack, and threw two picks. Mississippi State should be credited for an accurate game plan, physical demeanor, and timely execution. But in my opinion, Saturday was more telling about UK’s deficits. The Cats beat this team 40-38 a year ago and defeated its defensive coordinator in last year’s Governor’s Cup. Miss State was just plain meaner and exhibited a much higher desire to win this time around. Hat tip to Dan Mullen and that cow bell toting home crowd atmosphere.

The Wildcats cannot expect to win another game this season if it doesn’t somehow, some way establish a run game. It’s not done so on a consistent basis through seven games. Perplexing given 2016 results and with a running back like Benny Snell in the backfield. Quarterback Stephen Johnson’s 54-yards led the team. The offensive line rotated personnel but has yet to establish a solidified foundation to provide satisfactory running lanes or adequately protect the quarterback. This trend was blatantly obvious on Saturday against a physical, disruptive front seven. Opposing defenses will continue to be highly talented throughout the rest of the season. Things will not get easier. UK continued to struggle on first down which led to several 3rd and unmanageable situations (6/14-42.85%). That’s not exactly a recipe for victory in the Southeastern Conference or any college football league for that matter.

DEFENSE

Totally whipped up front. Miss State ran 75 plays for 441-yards, 25 first downs, and 45 points. The Wildcats didn’t tackle, cover receivers, maintain gap integrity, or counter physical play with a great deal of fight. Mississippi State ran for 282-yards off 48 carries. The vast majority of these yards came after initial contact which was as distressing as the loss itself. Credit MSU’s state of mind for fighting through arm tackles and being mentally and physically tougher for sixty minutes.

Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald completed 54% of his passes prior to Saturday. Against Kentucky, the junior signal caller completed 70% of his throws for 155-yards with a group of receivers that were not known for their pass catching prowess. Again, credit Miss State. This is majorly concerning considering that UK has to face teams with elite throwing quarterbacks and pass catchers like Ole Miss, Louisville, and Georgia.

SPECIAL TEAMS

As badly as the Cats were beaten up on the line of scrimmage, special teams really didn’t factor.

 WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

The back half of the schedule is difficult. Been saying that since Media Days. How Kentucky bounces back from Saturday’s embarrassing performance against a wobbly Tennessee team will define the 2017 season. It’s a simple as that. Tennessee played Alabama close (in context) for a half. The Tide led the Vols 21-0 after two quarters.

Listen, every team has an off day. But, Miss State’s complete line of scrimmage domination coupled with Kentucky’s continuing problems in both phases of the run game present a new perspective for Cat’s final five games. UT RB John Kelly will test the UK run defense. Kelly is one of the conference’s leaders in yards after contact and one of the best overall running backs the Cats will go against. There are also some very talented defenders along the Volunteer front seven that will provide similar challenges that were present against MSU. Plus, no outcomes can be taken for granted after this Miss State performance. Plus, the UK-UT game was once considered a rivalry. The two teams used to play for a trophy. Heated emotional games can lead to strange results. Tennessee historically is at its best against Kentucky. Or so it seems.

There were very few positives that can be construed from the 45-7 humiliation. The bigger and more telling question is what’s the ceiling for this football team? There are no sure wins in the back half of the schedule. Never has been.

An embarrassing loss can be answered in two ways. First, give up or simply throw in the towel. Second; learn from prior mistakes, circle the wagons, and become better from the experience. While future opposing teams may not have favorable win/loss records, there are still several competent individual players that are talented enough to take over a ballgame much like Nick Fitzgerald did in Starkville.

Kentucky cannot afford to lose to Mississippi State twice. Cliché and coach speak but applicable. Media and fans alike will decipher, complain about, and debate Saturday’s loss for at least a week. Mark Stoops and team will not be afforded that same luxury. Kentucky has no other choice than to go back to work and move on to Tennessee. For many and varying reasons, Saturday’s pending matchup is pivotal for both teams. Seven decisive days await the Kentucky Wildcats and the Tennessee Volunteers. Somebody’s season is about to change…….

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

19 responses to “Cats Get Rolled in Starkville”

  1. maximumscott

    Dont think they throw the towel bc we have great SR leaders in Love and Johnson that wont let that happen. This game wasnt as much a telling of subpar talent but lack of effort and mental preparation. I think the bye week hurt them in the game sleed department. State had the same thing happen to them against BYU in that they were rusty off their bye week. The difference was we play in starkville and State is a good FB team

  2. rainman

    I’m going to get hammered for this, but m going to say it anyway!
    Our offensive ne sucks! Until we either iprove our rush blocking, or
    move the QB more, teams are going to just T off on us!
    IMPROVE, it wouldn’t let me correct it! lol

    1. Rembrandt

      The offensive line has been a problem since the first week. There is no other way to explain the regression in Benny Shell’s production. Last year, the offensive line was a strength. That means the team hasn’t overcome losses of Toth and Mosier. There isn’t a lack of returning talent, so you have to look at Schlarman. I’m not saying fire him. But he has to do a better job than he has done.

  3. Jiminy Crickets

    In Stoops career at UK, he has 3 wins over teams that finished the season with a winning record (that is not including this season, as we dont know finishing records). Butch Jones s considered a dead man in coaching, but has beaten Stoops HANDILY in every match-up. So, when UT beats us next weekend, will the narrative change?

    1. KatsKlaws

      Stoops will be fine …”We”, meaning the administration at Kentucky, do not have the same level of expectation from the football program as they do at Tennessee.

      If they did they would not grossly over pay a man for mediocre results. Considering the financial investment that has been put into the program over the last few years, being a businessman, I would have expected to see a greater return on my money.

      The thing is they are still getting paid their share by the SEC so the impetus to force faster change really isn’t there from the administrations perspective. If they end up having an 8-4 record and losing in bowl game, this season will be declared an amazing success.

    2. chris43

      I’m fed up with it! I realize that we’re a basketball school and also play in a very tough SEC. I don’t expect the football team to beat a world beater or a top notch powerhouse. But I mean honestly is it to much to ask to be a respectable team ranked in the top 25? Heck if we could stay 20-25 yearly on a semi regular basis I’m pretty sure everyone would be tickled pink! I’m not saying fire Stoops BUT this sure seems familiar…..cough cough….are we in for another second half season nose dive?!?

    3. TBW3011

      All true, but he has a point. Nobody should apologize for our schedule, but it’s also not unfair to notice that our rise in the East has more to do with our opponents getting significantly worse than it does is getting significantly better. This team isn’t better than last years overall. Last years team would have run for 400 yards against this years.

    4. Rembrandt

      We are 5-2. But after each loss, fans attack the school’s “expectations” for football. By that reasoning, they will insist the school has low “expectations” for football unless we go 12-0. At some point, people have to recognize that the school’s “expectations” can’t control every block thrown by an offensive lineman. You don’t fire a coach who puts an improving team on the field every year.

  4. 3 fan

    UK football isn’t very good. They have benefited from a terrible schedule and still had to fight to win every one of those.
    This team could win two more games or lose every one of them. The OLine is the worst I’ve seen at UK in years.

  5. Sentient Third Eye

    The troubling aspect for me was the way they responded to adversity by laying down. MSU is probably between a touchdown or two better than us, and that’s how the first half went, but then we laid down and took ourselves out of the game so it became another “old Kentucky” blowout. I thought this team was mentally past that sort of thing. Disappointing.

  6. hooter6911

    I’m amazed at how surprised a lot of you are about the loss.

    1. callitlikeiseeit

      Not surprised by the loss, surprised {and Disappointed} about how bad the loss was. We lose 34-31 or so at least we feel like we have a decent team. It is evident the reason we struggled vs the bad teams we have played is because we were about equal to EKE, UMU, SO Miss etc.

    2. TBW3011

      Glad someone sees it. We weren’t playing down to our competition. We just weren’t much better than those teams.

  7. Willis talkin bout....

    haha… UT fans are hating life right now! That is the only comfort I find in being favored by 5 against a team we’ve only beaten once, with a wr playing qb, in how many years? I translate this to mean we will lose by a last minute field goal. Set up by a 40 yard pass reception by an uncovered receiver. Or possibly a 40 yard run by the QB on a 4th and 1. Remember the last time we were 5 and 1 and thought we were actually a good team? Yea I do to, and I have accepted that reality yet again… But who knows, maybe we don’t get burned by the dumpster fire that is UT and Stoops will get an extension for not being the second worst team in the East. Love the kids on this team, but have 0 confidence in the coaching staff.. Hell even they confess to getting out coached every other game.. maybe we should all start believing them.

  8. fairweather

    There has been slow but steady improvement during the Stoops era. Miss. St. also put a whooping on LSU which turns out to be a very good team.

    1. notFromhere

      Don’t use logic, fairweather. It’s like putting gas on the dumpster fire that is the vocal UK fan reaction to football.

      Every loss is the end of the world. Every game is the must-win, defining game of the season and sometimes the harbinger for seasons to come. If it’s a win, we’re either overrated, got lucky, ot we’re gonna win the SEC title. There is no solid ground.

      Bunch of drama queens and yeehaw gloomers. How they still have a football team after all the garbage spewed upon it by “fans” is an amazing thing to comprehend, (were it not that basketball needs that football money to keep title 9 from dipping into their funds).

      The rest of you awesome fans out there, like fairweather, keep your chin up and battle against the darkness so that UK can keep getting better.

    2. Rembrandt

      Well said by notfromhere.

  9. TBW3011

    This performance wasn’t much different than than the 75-80% of our first six games. We just happened to be playing a team that didn’t fall in the mediocre to bad category. We weren’t ranked at 5-1 because anyone with a clue knew they weren’t watching a good football team week after week. We don’t play to our competition. That’s been a misconception this season. We have slid by mediocre opponents this year because we are also a mediocre team. Not because we play down to their level. We have to beat UT, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it will come easy. Their offense is awful, but their D is plenty good to give us problems. We can’t run on anyone to this point. Even the Mizzou defense shut out run game down outside of one big play. And Mizzou’s defense is as bad as it gets.

  10. natedaddy

    Anyone know what Stoops record is off bye weeks? Once read somewhere that you can tell how good your teams coaching staff really is coming off a bye week. A good coaching staff has an extra week to find ways to win. A bad coaching staff has an extra week to find ways to lose.