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A Challenging Road Trip: Previewing Kentucky-Miss State

Photo via HOK

Photo via HOK

Photo via HOK

In ranking the level of difficulty of Kentucky’s six remaining opponents, Mississippi State is number one on my list. Not necessarily the most talented team if you worship at the altar of recruiting stars, but it is the most complete, consistent, developed, and experienced roster.  To top it off, they’re led by the league’s best quarterback. Add in a little geography, or Starkville to be specific, and Saturday will require a monumental effort for the Cats to steal an SEC road win.

The Dogs are 5-2. A win on Saturday would ensure Coach Dan Mullen his sixth consecutive bowl season. MSU has also won 11 of its last 12 home games and 16 straight against non-ranked opponents. UK travels south at 4-2. Mark Stoops is in search of his first postseason in three years. At the time this post was sent to the esteemed KSR editorial staff, the spread sits at 11 points. However, SEC statistics tell a different story. By the numbers, the Cats and Dogs are eerily similar. Here’s a breakdown by advantages in position groups:

Quarterback-Mississippi State

Through QB Dak Prescott’s 27 career starts, the Bulldogs have averaged 465.4 yard per game. His record as a starting quarterback is 19-8.  For the season, he’s 148-225 for 11 TD’s and zero interceptions. He’s also rushed for 254 net yards and 4 scores. Considered by many as the SEC’s top quarterback, Prescott is equally impressive as a team leader and student of the game.

Patrick Towles is coming off an efficient and, at times, elite performance against Auburn. For the season, Pat’s completed 123-200 passes for 1,512 yards, and 8 touchdowns, but has thrown 7 costly interceptions. Patrick Towles is a Top 5 SEC quarterback and an NFL prospect. Monitoring southeastern media outlets, many feel that Saturday’s game is a matchup of the SEC’s two best quarterbacks.

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Running back/Fullback-Kentucky

Even though he’s missed six quarters, Boom Williams currently ranks 7th in the SEC in rushing yards per game with 91.7 yards an outing. JoJo Kemp and Mikel Horton have provided timely carries. As a group, Kentucky has more production from their running backs. Will Tom Collins is a consistent and physical blocker to lead the way at fullback.

The Dogs run the ball by committee. Brandon Shumpert, Brandon Holloway, Dontavian Lee, and Aries Williams are listed as the Dogs four RB’s. Of the four, Brandon Holloway leads with 36 carries for 174 yards for the season. That’s good for 22.9 yards per game. If you can’t tell, Dak Prescott IS the Miss State offense.

Offensive Line-Miss State

LT Rufus Warren 6’7 299 Sr

LG Justin Malone 6’7 320 Sr

C Jamaal Clayborn 6’4 315 Sr

RG Devon Desper 6’4 305 Jr

RT Justin Senior 6’5 295 Jr

The Bulldogs are averaging 34 points and 425 yards per game. The OL has been good, but not dominant. This especially applies to the run game. However, the Bulldog OL has effectively protected Dak Prescott. With three seniors and two juniors, the MSU OL is experienced and crafty. Their experience up front is a testament to the program’s ability to redshirt newcomers and strategically recruit junior college prospects. To compare the two, UK starts only one senior in its front five.

Kentucky’s offensive line quietly bounced back from a poor performance against EKU as the Wildcats exploded for 497 yards against Auburn. That number is the most that the Tigers have surrendered in 2015. They did allow three QB sacks, but at least one of the three could be considered a coverage sack. UK has settled in on its starting five: Swindle, Myers, Toth, Haynes, and Meadows. That’s one senior, a junior, and three sophomores.

Receivers/TE-Mississippi State

Fred Ross leads in receptions with 38, however the 6’5 210 pound De’Runnya Wilson has five touchdowns. Fred Brown is becoming a more consistent threat, especially across the middle of the field, with 16 receptions for 250 yards and one touchdown. In addition to the primary three, the Dogs’ receiving corps is deep, substituting situationally even though injuries have limited their rotation. As a group, MSU is the most physically imposing unit that Kentucky’s faced in seven games. Starting TE Gus Walley was injured in last weekend’s game against Louisiana Tech, but they won’t miss a beat from his replacement – 6’7 260 pounder Darrion Hutcherson.

Kentucky’s receivers are talented, there’s no denying that factor, but there’s also no denying they’ve been inconsistent. As the season progresses, passes are primarily being targeted to Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, and Jeff Badet. Johnson is now drawing comparisons to Randall Cobb. For a Kentucky Wildcat, that is the highest compliment possible. The Wildcat’s leading pass catcher is Dorian Baker with 30 receptions. Jeff Badet has been effective in the vertical passing game. CJ Conrad’s pass catching resurfaced against Auburn, and it is a MUST moving forward for the Kentucky offense.

Defensive line-Mississippi State

DE Ryan Brown 6’6 266 Sr

DT Nick James 6’5 325 Jr

DT Chris Jones 6’6 308 Jr

DE AJ Jefferson 6’4 277 Jr

Miss. State has totaled 19 sacks contributed by 10 different players. By observation, the front four’s length is what is most impressive. AJ Jefferson’s 4 QB sacks and 10 tackles for loss lead the group. DE Ryan Brown has 6 tackles for loss and 2.5 QB sacks. DT Chris Jones is the highest recruiting prospect.  Jones was named to 2014 preseason All-American team, but didn’t crack the Bulldog starting lineup until 2015.

Melvin Lewis is out for the remainder of the season. Mark Stoops and his team were distraught by Melvin’s injury. Lewis has overcome tremendous odds and is held in high regard both on and off the field. The Matt Elam era is now upon us. CJ Johnson’s ankle was not 100% against Auburn. He will need another outrageous performance to provide inside pass rush on Prescott. Farrington Huguenin is steady and reliable. Eventually, QB sacks will have to be produced.

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Linebacker-Mississippi State

Two of MSU’s top three tacklers are linebackers. Richie Brown’s 61 tackles, one interception, 3.5 QB sacks, and 5 tackles for loss leads the Dog D. Beniquez Brown’s 44 stops, 3 tackles for loss, and one interception are also impressive. The team’s fourth leading tackler is JT Gray with 38. The Miss State linebacker corps has the advantage of playing behind a larger and more disruptive defensive line.

UK’s Josh Forrest is the league’s fourth leading tackler averaging 9.1 stops per game. Ryan Flannigan’s production has slowed since his explosive return against Missouri. Jason Hatcher is returning to form as Jabari Johnson provides stability, although he can be a liability in the pass defense. Denzil Ware is still a work in progress and has elite potential.

Secondary-Mississippi State

MSU’s secondary is led by CB Will Redmond and his 2 interceptions. Initial NFL projections have him in the 1st or 2nd round category. Strong safety Brandon Bryant is the only underclassman in the Miss. State starting lineup, and even he has one interception. The Dogs’ secondary is solid, but not as elite as Florida or Missouri.

Auburn exposed Kentucky’s secondary in pre-determined one-on-one, first half mismatches. Given MSU’s size at receiver and TE, personnel adjustments are imminent. True freshman Chris Westry is special, and continues to improve. The real concern is at the other CB position. Expect to see more JD Harmon on Saturday. Mississippi native AJ Stamps needs to have his 2015 breakout game.

Special Teams-Mississippi State

KR Brandon Holloway ranks 4th in the SEC with 29.4 yards per kickoff return. Punter Logan Cooke is averaging 42.3 yards per attempt. Miss. State is 100% in FG’s with Westin Graves hitting 8-8 with ease. MSU has returned both a kickoff and punt for a touchdown. Given Kentucky’s kick/punt woes, improvements in both are non-negotiable.

Kicking game’s hidden yards wrecked UK’s chances in its loss to Auburn. Giving Dak Prescott and his big wide receivers advantageous field position could lead to a very long day. Coverage teams have done their part, but have been placed in precarious positions by less than desirable punting and kicking. That’s actually being kind. Going into Saturday, this is a major cause for concern.

What does this mean?

Kentucky will have its hands full on Saturday. Even after losing 15 starters from a year ago, Dan Mullen has built a sustainable roster, not just for a particular season. The proof is that 21/22 Bulldog starters are juniors and seniors. Dak Prescott has yet to throw an interception and is surrounded by explosive play makers. Defensively, the Cats will face a pass rushing machine with intent on influencing Patrick Towles in the pocket. After a demoralizing home loss, hitting the road may be just what this team needs.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

32 Comments for A Challenging Road Trip: Previewing Kentucky-Miss State

  1. Bill
    10:05 pm October 21, 2015 Permalink

    Wow…is the SEC that bad at the QB position?

    • Reese
      10:13 pm October 21, 2015 Permalink

      It’s pretty damn bad, but one QB who flies under the radar is Jacob Coker for Alabama. That dude is one tough SOB, after seeing him play two full games not sure how he wasn’t the full fledged starter for Bama last year and this year. Wish he had come to UK.

    • Birdman from Ft. Thomas
      9:59 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      If he would have come to UK he would be still sitting on the bench behind Patty Slice because apparently he is the second coming of Christ! Come on Freddie you are better than this. FREE BARKER!

  2. Reese
    10:15 pm October 21, 2015 Permalink

    If I read this and knew nothing about college football, I would believe Missisippi State is the best team in the nation and is going to beat us by 45.

    • kyjohn
      10:44 pm October 21, 2015 Permalink

      Sadly,i’m inclined to agree.
      Anybody know what has happened to Timmons? Have’nt heard anything about him,and he used to be a primary target.

    • CatsBy80
      1:05 pm October 22, 2015 Permalink

      i’ll tell you what has happened to timmons… he sucks. drops WAY too many passes. i hate that he is one of our special teams returners. dude has oil on his gloves…

  3. Kussy
    10:51 pm October 21, 2015 Permalink

    Two best QB’s in the SEC? No, no,no. Cmon, Pat is average. Where has he earned the right to be called what your basically saying is ELITE ? if Pat is a top NFL prospect, so is 120 other D1 QB’s. Call a spade a spade. Just cause he has hieght, and one heck of a super arm, doesn’t make an NFL QB. He lacks a few skills that unfortunately cannot be taught. Having said that, his Oline hasn’t helped at all also adding several horrible calls from the coaching staff. What’s very concerning is alot of the bad calls are so amateur, the average Joe facepalms in disbelief that such a call was made. I have alot of positives that i could add, but this is directed at the false comment that Towels is top SEC QB. Call it like it is.

    • ...
      2:02 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      “Kussy”, your credentials, please….

      We know Freddie’s.

    • theWilkman
      10:08 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      Along with your credentials, I’d like to see who in the SEC you rank higher?

  4. Wildcatwill
    11:53 pm October 21, 2015 Permalink

    Freddie, take off the rose colored homer glasses. Patrick is way to inconsistent and inaccurate to be considered an NFL quarterback. He misses guys constantly who are open and can’t go through his reads to find the open guy. His throws are behind, over and underthrown 2 out of 4 throws. I hope he can turn it around but going into year 3 it is what it is.

  5. UKfan4ever
    12:02 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    After reading amazing stuff here on KSR about Melvin Lewis and knowing he grew up in a rough area in the outskirts of LA, I just want to wish Melvin a speedy recovery. He will be missed.

    This is for all you visitors who plan to visit downtown Louisville in the future, and you are approached by a hooker, be sure and ask for the UL Basketball Player discount. You might save 50%……..

    • Trailer Trash Cat
      3:59 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      If you got sisters you don’t need no hookers

    • Ha!
      9:56 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      These Louisville trolls are STILL hanging out on here talking shit. Amazing.

      Have fun finding your next coach. 😉


    • Chane's speling be
      10:03 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      I’s told em tat I’s didn’t com too Luisville fo those women.

  6. Spectre
    6:39 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    Geeez, Freddie. I bet you comb his hair for him every night don’t you.

  7. Easy Wind
    6:48 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    C’mon people, give Freddie a break. He favored Miss. St. in basically every category, so that is definitely not being a homer. Like it or not, Towles is a NFL prospect. Great work Freddie. Your knowledge of football is amazing. Keep it coming.

  8. Radmankd
    6:53 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    Please explain what part of Towles game was elite vs Auburn.
    NFL prospect? Really? Do you watch football on Sunday?
    Towles is a decent QB who sometimes will get hot. The “sometimes” doesn’t equal elite.
    I hope he’s hot on Saturday. Go Big Blue!

    • theWilkman
      10:11 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      Mack Brown commented multiple times on specific passes Towles made that were “elite” and “next level”, his words. I’ll take the opinions of a national championship coach and a former SEC QB over some random KSR commenter.

  9. I love
    7:05 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    I love your posts, Freddie. They are the best UK football analysis on the internet. But what EXACTLY did our QB do against Auburn that qualified as “elite”? I think you meant sometimes “competent”.

    At the very least, the word “elite” brings to mind images of quick decision making and accuracy.

  10. Freddie
    9:47 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    Thanks for reading. There were 4-5 throws that Pat made on Thursday that were in the elite category. I wish I could take credit for that evaluation, but I can’t. That description came from professionals that get paid to analyze if throws are elite/NFL or not. And those opinions were consensus. I call it as I see it. If you need an example, a 30 yard frozen rope out route from hash to sideline is elite. Doesn’t matter to me who makes the throw. Again, thanks for reading.

    • theWilkman
      10:13 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      Thanks for responding, Freddie. Some want to say you’re wearing “blue-colored glasses,” but I think its more that they don’t want to give Towles any credit at all.

      Some UK fans seem to prefer it when we are bottom-of-the-barrel. It’s almost like they don’t know what to do with themselves when we show signs of improvement.

  11. Freddie
    9:58 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    Just re-checked, Towles is rated as Top 10 QB in 2017 NFL draft by 3 separate projection boards/sources. Again, I’m not a UK QB defender or apologist. However try to objectively look at the big picture. Projecting to NFL and National Signing Day are subjective but both are derived from research/opinion. I like the feedback, thanks for reading.

    • Dude
      10:15 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      I wouldn’t try to spend too much time trying to give facts and present logic to these folks – you’ll just tire yourself.

      I thank you for all you do, Freddie. Great works as always.

    • Andy
      10:33 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      Freddie, we all know those projections don’t mean much. Towles is too inconsistent at this point to be considered elite. 7 interceptions and more to follow. Holds on to the ball too long. Decision making is also inconsistent. He has another year to iron out all these things and then we can determine if he is NFL ready.

    • Leuther
      3:52 pm October 22, 2015 Permalink

      Substance over style. Keep up the great analysis work, Freddie!

  12. UKfan
    10:20 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    Thanks Freddie for all your analysis. Every article you have ever written I have liked and appreciated.

  13. WJ
    10:48 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    Two spot on comments from above:

    “Towles is a decent QB who sometimes will get hot. The “sometimes” doesn’t equal elite.”

    “At the very least, the word “elite” brings to mind images of quick decision making and accuracy.”

    Freddie, as for your quote of pro scouts who said he made pro throws, that’s not in dispute. NOBODY says Towles can’t throw, even 50% of the time. The issue is not SOME OF THE TIME, but CONSISTENCY.

    Coach Stoops has said it best using a b-ball analogy, and I paraphrase, “We need Patrick to make the layups. What’s frustrating and huge momentum-killers is when he misses the layups.” Missing badly needed layups at critical times in a game sucks the spirit out of the team.

    Think about it. If a college basketball player can’t consistently make layups, then the chances of him improving at this point in his career are unfortunately, but statistically very improbable. How do you coach somebody, “Just make your layups! Stop missing. Take it easy. Relax. Slow down.” Really, what would you say to a 20 year-old UK basketball player that missed easy layups CONSISTENTLY?

  14. Freddie
    11:04 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    Agree as I’ve written and said the same. Inconsistency has presented challenges as well as his inability in completing high percentage throws at a higher percentage. However, regardless of name of the back of the jersey, to not appreciate or recognize 14’s significance to UK offense is overly simplistic and picking low hanging fruit. There’s not a player on the UK or any roster that plays a completely clean game. But, take away 14’s elite throws and where would UK be in 2015? I stand by my take that nationally and within the SEC, Towles reputation is viewed differently than a segment within the Commonwealth’s borders. I’d be saying the same if 7, 12, 22, or 2 were under center. Question, and I’m not being sarcastic, and wanting your opinion; if 2 or 3 drops were caught, would this conversation be the same? Offense is an 11 man operation. Great feedback, thanks for reading.

    • theWilkman
      11:33 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

      If Baker’s 2 end-zone drops – early against Florida and the 3rd quarter against Auburn – were catches, the conversation would most definitely be different.

  15. Troll
    11:05 am October 22, 2015 Permalink

    I’m not knocking Freddie so much for the write up, but Towles has 8 touchdowns to 7 interceptions this year, As a 4th year Junior that’s not impressive.. 3 of the 6 games he has no TD passes, yet only has one game without an INT.

  16. Radmankd
    1:46 pm October 22, 2015 Permalink

    This won’t be settled until Towles senior year is over and NFL draft rolls around. I’ll be absolutely shocked if he makes a roster.
    Please, shock me! Improve your game, lead us to the next level!
    Go Big Blue!

  17. Just Say'n
    1:55 pm October 22, 2015 Permalink

    While I’m certainly no expert, I believe it’s more than safe to say this about Towles.

    He has a better than average arm, not elite.
    He has a real difficulty throwing a spiral for some reason.
    He never, NEVER looks off of what is considered to be his primary receiver, and generally locks in immediately.
    In all fairness, if you reviewed every game, he’s had receivers save more bad throws than he’s made good throws. Even touchdown passes.

    I love KY football, and I’m sure I’ll get the ‘what’s your credentials’ comment. I can only say that I played at the college level and have been attending games at Commonwealth since it opened and seen a lot of above average QB’s from a lot of schools. Most of them never made the NFL and some of the reasons why are above.