Kentucky’s permanent SEC West opponent stumbled in Joe Moorhead’s first season. Projected to be Alabama’s top contender in the division, the Bulldogs finished fourth after posting a .500 record in the SEC and 8-4 overall. Even though their defense ranked near the top in almost every national statistical category, the former Penn State offensive coordinator could not create explosive plays with Nick Fitzgerald at quarterback.
Moorhead’s offense will move forward with a former Nittany Lion at quarterback, Tommy Stevens. After losing a ton of talent, if Stevens doesn’t get Moorhead’s offense rolling, it could be a long year in Starkville.
The Best Thing Joe Moorhead Said — In hindsight, State’s head coach believed things would have gone differently if he did not set the bar so high as soon as he stepped on campus.
“In a year’s worth of time, you learn things. And you got to be really introspective, I think, as a leader and you got to look in the mirror, not out the window,” he said.
“I am not saying I’m changing what our goals are, but the approach of coming off the plane gun’s blazing, talking about ring sizes and Heisman Trophies — and the expectation level of the team entering the season, prior to me even getting there… I wouldn’t have changed the goals, but I probably would have kept it a little bit more in house.”
The Best Thing Joe Moorhead Said (Out of Context) — “Part of the reason for the diet and losing some weight, I was tired of all the recruits on the trail asking me if I played right or left tackle.”
Coach Speak 101 — How does Moorhead make improvements in year two? “It’s not about the whats but the hows and the whys.” Whatever that means.
Paging Mr. Marino — Moorhead opened his remarks by calling back to his past as a quarterback. He was a signal-caller at the same high school as Dan Marino and Marc Bulger, Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Moorhead wore Marino’s No. 13, until the jersey was retired by his school just before his senior season. Moorhead used the stage to ask Marino for a follow on Twitter.
“Since Dan, he forced me out of my number in my senior year in high school, and I am one of his biggest fans,” Moorhead said. “I figured that the least Dan could do was hit me with a follow back.”
Moorhead also invited Marino to attend a game in Starkville. “And as Pittsburgh people will know, I’ll have a cold case of Iron City on ice waiting for him.”
Same Face, New Place — Former UofL defensive lineman Allen Love will play for the Bulldogs this fall, but he won’t make as big of an impact as Isaiah Zuber. Last year the wide receiver led Kansas State with 52 receptions for 619 yards. The dynamic playmaker will get a chance to take on his former team in Starkville in week three.
Miss. State’s Scariest Player — Running back Kylin Hill is a brute, coming off a 749-yard sophomore season, but he will not carry as heavy of a load as Errol Thompson. One of the few key contributors returning from State’s dominant defense, last season the middle linebacker was second on the team in tackles with 87. He also had nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions. Not only is he an elite run stuffer, he’s great in coverage, limiting targets to a 56.2 passer rating.
Biggest Question Mark — Can Bob Shoop still dominate opponents without the elite pass rushers? Jeffrey Simmons and Montez Sweat were two of the best of the best in the nation last year. The JUCO factory has kept the coffers full on the defensive line, but those two cannot easily be replaced.
Good News for UK — The Bulldogs lost seven starters on defense and have to find a new quarterback. That’s easier said than done.
Bad News for UK — Kentucky has not won in Starkville since 2008 and most of the games since then have not been close. Kentucky has surrendered more than 40 points on each of the last two trips. 2010 and 2013 were the only meetings decided by fewer than ten points.
Fear Factor — 6.8
Kentucky doesn’t play well against the cowbell. It took an incredible performance to upend the Bulldogs last year by three scores. Even though this Miss. State isn’t nearly as talented as last year’s team, the Cats will need another spectacular performance to silence the crowd and escape with a win on the road.