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UK Federal Credit Union presents: 5 Things You Need to Know About the Mississippi State Bulldogs

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It’s GAMEDAY!!! Kentucky enters Week Three of the 2020 football season with a disappointing 0-2 record. The season-opening 29-13 defeat at Auburn left fans wanting more, but ultimately that wasn’t a bad loss despite some opportunities that could have changed the outcome. However, there is definitely some unrest in Lexington following a chaotic 42-41 Overtime loss to Ole Miss at Kroger Field last Saturday.

Former UK Offensive Coordinator Mick Leach will lead the Mississippi State Bulldogs onto Kroger Field tonight at 7:30 as the Wildcats look to earn their first victory of the season. Coach Leach learned the Air Raid offense under former Kentucky Head Coach Hal Mumme and will utilize the pass-heavy attack once again this season in Starkville.

Mississippi State began the season with a shocking 44-34 victory over the defending national champion LSU Tigers. However, they stumbled in Starkville last weekend falling to Arkansas 21-14.

Two seasons ago, Benny Snell ran all over Mississippi State under the lights in the pouring rain at Kroger Field on the way to a 28-7 win. Can the Wildcats get right in a similar game this evening? In order to keep this season on the rails this has become a bit of a “must-win” game. Let’s dive in and go over some of the key things to know about Mike Leach’s new team. Also, as always, check out Adam Luckett’s Scouting Report and How Kentucky Beats Mississippi State by Freddie Maggard.

Sound the Alarms: AIR RAID

Kentucky fans of a certain age know the Air Raid offense first hand. The offense has essentially taken over college football in recent years, but its roots are right here in Lexington. After having success at the NAIA and Division II levels, Hal Mumme brought his revolutionary offense to UK in 1997 and went 20-26 in four seasons. Mike Leach was his Offensive Coordinator for that first season in Lexington, and had worked under Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan and Valdosta State as well, before joining Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.

One thing to know about the modern Mike Leach Air Raid is that is a little different from the other versions you see. As you should have read on KSR throughout the week, it is not a high-tempo offense. Also, while there are some deep shots down the field, Leach prefers to spread the field horizontally before testing the defense vertically.

The system had a ton of success in Week One as the Bulldogs hung 44 points on the defending national champions and gained an outrageous 623 yards through the air. However, things came back down to Earth a little bit last week with Mississippi State throwing for “just” 313 yards while scoring 14 points against Arkansas.

Kentucky’s open field tackling ability will be tested tonight and they will need to keep the Bulldogs behind the chains as often as possible. The Air Raid will produce positive yardage often enough, but limiting explosive plays, stealing a possession via turnover, and recording a few sacks will go a long way towards getting in the win column for the first time this season. As Nick Roush has outlined, limiting Yards After Catch will be a very important statistic tonight.

K.J. Costello and Big Wide Receivers

Stanford Graduate Transfer K.J. Costello took ahold of the Air Raid reigns and burst onto the scene in Week One throwing for 623 yards on 60 attempts and connecting on five touchdowns. Last week, Costello slung it 59 times but gained just 313 yards and only threw for one touchdown. You can expect to see 50+ throws tonight, but the key will be if Kentucky defends more like LSU in Week One or Arkansas in Week Two.

At Wide Receiver Mississippi State’s top weapons check in at 6’5” 210 pounds and 6’6” 200 pounds plus several shifty slot guys and some running backs who can split out wide and/or catch it out of the backfield.

Osirus Mitchell (#5) leads the group with 12 catches so far this season for 244 yards and two scores. JaVonta Payton (#0) has caught 8 balls for 145 yards and a touchdown. Payton is a 6’1” 180 pounds receiver with some speed. Freshman Jaden Walley (#31), Dillion Johnson (#23), and Jo’Quavious Marks (#21) all deserve mention after catching 6, 8, and 10 passes respectively a week ago. Especially Johnson and Marks will be impacted by the return of Kylin Hill, but they all will factor into the passing point most likely. 6’6’’ Junior Tyrell Shavers (#9) brought in a touchdown against LSU as well.

Kylin Hill Back From Injury

After exiting the Arkansas game with what appeared to be concussion like symptoms during the first drive of the game, the Bulldogs star Running Back will be back in action at Kroger Field tonight. Hill rushed for 1350 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago, but under Mike Leach he is factoring into the passing attack much, much more.

Despite essentially just playing in one game this season, Kylin Hill has recorded 8 pass receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, he has gained just 41 yards on 8 rushes. He clearly will continue to be more of a threat through the air, but he is the type of player you have to account for at all times regardless of were he lines up.

3-3-5 Defense

Zach Arnett has brought the unique defense over from San Diego State to try and confuse some Southeastern Conference offenses. The primary scheme behind a 3-3-5 is that you have six in the box and the seventh box defender can come from anywhere. After two games, Mississippi State finds themselves atop the SEC and sixth nationally with an 11.9% sack rate.

Kentucky’s ability to pick up some exotic blitzes will be a key to victory this evening. The Bulldogs feature a veteran crew of former blue-chip recruits up front that will look to cause some havoc. At the same time, this type of defense can be susceptible to a good offensive line that can climb to the second level quickly to create running lanes.

You can expect to see the three linebackers stacked directly behind the three down linemen and then a seventh defender will come into run support from somewhere on the field. That linebacking core brings a ton of size and experience to the field. Led by 250 pound Redshirt Senior Erroll Thompson (#40) who is a potential All-SEC linebacker, this Mississippi State group has recorded 4.5 sacks in two games. Tyus Wheat (#2) and Aaron Brule (#3) check in at 260 and 230 pounds respectively in the other two starting roles.

Stuffing the Run

We’ve already touched on the experienced linebacker corps, but the defensive line may be the biggest reason why the Bulldogs have the best rush defense in college football so far this season.

Jaden Crumedy (#94) and Nathan Pickering (#22) are both over 300 pounds up front and have been causing havoc for opposing offensive lines. Those two have collected 2.5 sacks and 12 tackles in two games.

Against LSU, the Bulldogs allowed 125 rushing yards (2.1 yards per attempt) and sacked Myles Brennan seven times. Despite losing to Arkansas in Week Two, the run defense actually got even stingier allowing just 1.7 yards per carry for a total of 103 yards. They collected three more quarterback sacks as well.

Luckily, the Big Blue Wall is one of the best around and can hopefully get some push up front to allow the ‘Cats more success on the ground. More importantly though, they will need to keep Terry Wilson upright against a defense with 10 sacks already this season. 

@BRamseyKSR

Article written by Brandon Ramsey

Basketball X's & O's for KSR. Follow me on Twitter: @BRamseyKSR