Didn’t like the matchup all week.
Dak Prescott and all those receivers. Pass rushers with nineteen sacks from ten different players. Cowbells and a veteran team with bowl eligibility on the line and an upcoming bye week. Not one factor indicated that UK would go to Starkville and win.
Then Saturday night happened.
After a brief 10-7 lead, Mr. Prescott (yes, after that performance his name is Mr. Prescott) took over as he passed and ran his way through the Kentucky defense. A defense that disappointingly put up very little resistance. Example: on two drives to end the first half, Mississippi State converted a first down on nearly every snap as it seemed to be going against air.
We could recap the game, but those stories are already all over the interwebs. Not going to bore you with drive charts, blitz packages, wheel routes or philosophies. Instead, here are some observations from the Starkville butt whoopin’:
— In preseason discussion, three players were listed as irreplaceable: Melvin Lewis, Jon Toth, and Josh Forrest. Lewis’ absence was noticeable and highlighted during every low-lighted instant replay. Matt Elam is still a work in progress. Going forward, creativity will need to trump personnel at Melvin’s vacated Nose-guard spot.
— First downs plays killed UK’s offense. During one prolonged game segment, two first down penalties were followed by three first down dropped passes. Penalties and drops indicate a lack of focus. Unacceptable in week seven. Starting the majority of drives at second and 10 were welcoming “Vacancy” signs for MSU’s exotic and perilous blitz packages.
— Lack of pass rush was at an embarrassingly low level. While at times struggling to line up and get eleven players on the field, UK’s post-snap defensive execution didn’t go much better. We talked all week about Prescott and surrounding skill. Level of difficulty greatly decreases when the quarterback’s vision wasn’t even impeded.
— To close the first half, Miss State scored 14 points in less than one minute. What could have been a 14-13 game turned into a 28-13 precursor to a route within a matter of seconds.
— The Cats continue to struggle to pitch and catch. Inconsistencies abound in this fundamental action. This applies to both pitching and catching as well as all things leading up to the final product.
— Offensive line struggled to protect the quarterback. That included both Patrick Towles and Drew Barker. Other than the Pick 6, which was called back due to roughing the passer, Towles played good enough for his team to be competitive. Drew Barker came in and showed grit. He did have his welcome to the SEC moment: a hit and his first interception. Again, contrary to popular belief, UK is a team with several obvious deficiencies. Quarterbacking, either Towles or Barker, are not the most pressing.
— Mississippi State blitzed, but then figured out it didn’t have to do so. The Bulldog front seven dominated the line of scrimmage.
— State’s offensive line had been a question mark going into Saturday. Safe to say, it also dominated the line of scrimmage. Dak Prescott was hit once, perhaps twice in the pocket. For the night, Mr. Prescott accounted for 468 total yards. Respect.
— Now you understand my anger following Thursday’s loss to Auburn. Similar opportunities are lessening as the schedule toughens. The Tigers also exposed weaknesses in UK’s pass rush/coverage. On Saturday night, Mississippi State placed a magnifying glass on its ineptitude.
— Safeties AJ Stamps and Marcus McWilson were situationally replaced by redshirt freshmen Darius West and Mike Edwards. Derrick Baity took over for Cody Quinn at corner. In the fourth quarter, Kentucky played with four freshmen defensive backs and two freshmen outside linebackers. Not an excuse, but noteworthy.
— Ramsey Meyer’s personal foul was senseless and started a backwards march after the Cats had the football with first and goal on the three-yard line. Drive result was a field goal. Didn’t factor in the game’s final score, but just can’t happen. For the night, UK displayed a lack of composure.
— Still can’t fathom how Dak Prescott and his receiving corps were virtually playing seven-on-seven with an unlimited pass rush buzzer. (During seven-on-seven, a buzzer is set to ring at 3.5 seconds.) A large part of the equation was discussed earlier in the Wildcat pass rush, or lack thereof.
— After watching Tennessee give Alabama all it wanted before the comedy of errors in Starkville, the Volunteers will be coming to Commonwealth Stadium hungry and angry. Before UK-Miss St game, didn’t think it was a big deal. But UT offers many of the same problems that MSU served up like a breakfast buffet.
— True freshmen Drew Barker, Sihiem King and CJ Conrad showed flashes of promise, but more importantly: fight. King finished with three carries for 31 yards as Conrad grabbed six passes for 56 yards. Drew’s numbers: 7-for-9 for 42 yards and one interception. He also had three rushes for 20 yards. Even though its final drive didn’t result in points, I appreciated the youngster’s competitiveness.
— Boom Williams ran behind his pads. Game got too ugly too quickly for him to factor late, but 18 rushes for 95 yards were a good outing against a physical defense.
— Austin MacGinnis booted all but one kickoff into the end zone. Refreshing and in a normal game, would have factored. Sadly, or impressively, there’s nothing normal about Dak Prescott. Respect, again.
— The most troubling aspect; Mississippi State was obviously the more physical and tough football team. Kentucky did not only get beaten on the scoreboard, it got beaten up period. Not atypical for the Dogs, but expected more battle from the Cats.
— First and foremost, final score: Miss State 42, Kentucky 16. Could and should have been a whole heck of a lot worse.
— Total Plays/Offense: MSU 72 plays for 586 yards. UK 85 plays for 423.
— Rushing Yards: Miss State-204, UK-163.
— First Downs: UK-30, MSU-30
Oh heck, that’s enough. You get the message. UK travelled to Starkville, but only one team showed up.
What does all this mean?
Some serious soul searching lies ahead for Mark Stoops and his football team. For all things Kentucky Football, Saturday night was an all systems failure. Mississippi State out-played, coached, schemed, and toughed the Wildcats. No simpler way to describe it.
All three phases require massive and rapid improvement. After it’s all said and done, the Cats will still be bowl eligible. But the Starkville experience felt like an unexpected step backwards.
What’s next? We’ll see next Saturday when Rocky Top invades our Homeland.