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How UK’s Final Six Opponents Started the Season

Mississippi State

  • Record: 3-2 (2-1)
  • Signature Win: 37-7 vs. LSU
  • vs. UK: at Starkville October 21, 4:00 on SEC Network
  • Today’s Game: vs. BYU at noon on SEC Network

Dan Mullen’s ninth season at Mississippi State got off to a fast start, but has faltered through the last two games.  After a pair of big wins vs. lesser non-conference opponents, the Bulldogs’ high-powered offense led by Nick Fitzgerald rolled over Coach O’s LSU Tigers with a dominant 37-7 win.  Then, reality smacked them in the face on the road.

Georgia and Auburn, arguably two of the SEC’s three best teams, beat the brakes off the Bulldogs.  Miss. State lost the two games by a combined score of 80-13.  Georgia and Auburn did exactly what you have to do to beat Miss. State: slow down Fitzgerald.

State averages 422 yards per game and more than half of them (225) come from the big dual-threat quarterback.  Against Auburn Fitzgerald was held to 213 total yards and against Georgia he only had 130.  In each game he threw two interceptions.

Miss. State has an easy bounce-back game at home against BYU to build confidence ahead of Kentucky, but the formula to beat the Bulldogs will remain the same: stop Nick Fitzgerald.

Tennessee

  • Record: 3-2 (0-2)
  • Signature Win: Championship of Life
  • vs. UK: in Lexington October 28
  • Today’s Game: vs. South Carolina at noon on ESPN

It has been a joy to watch the Tennessee football program implode under Butch Jones.  Instead of going from good to dogcrap overnight, it’s been a slow drip of uncreative coach-speak and inept execution.

After an impressive come-from-behind overtime win over Georgia Tech, the Vols reverted to undisciplined Butch Jones football, the trademark of his tenure at Tennessee.  All they had to do was keep Florida in front of them to force overtime.  Instead, America laughed at them.

What a call from Brad Nessler. 

After that fateful play, the downward spiral has accelerated.  After the Florida loss they trailed for most of the game against UMass, only to squeak out a 17-13 win.  The following week they hosted Georgia and took a 41-0 loss.  It was Tennessee’s worst home loss since 1905 when Vanderbilt won 45-0.

Quarterback Quinten Dormady was one of the top passers in the SEC to start the season.  Now he’s benched and considering a transfer.  This week the Vols host South Carolina.  If they score first, it will be Tennessee’s first lead in regulation vs. a power five opponent this season (my favorite UT stat).

Next week they travel to Tuscaloosa.  Here’s to hoping Butch Jones survives until the Kentucky game so the Cats can end his time at Tennessee.

Ole Miss

  • Record: 2-3 (0-2)
  • Signature Win: 66-3 Loss to Alabama
  • vs. UK: in Lexington November 4
  • Today’s Game: vs. Vanderbilt at 3:30 on SEC Network

In the middle of an NCAA investigation Hugh Frieze was fired before the season, and not because of the NCAA investigation.  Despite the turmoil, quarterback Shae Patterson led Ole Miss to a pair of 40+ point wins to kick off the 2017 season.

Since then, it hasn’t been pretty. Ole Miss fell apart against Cal, then traveled to Alabama and Auburn for a pair of beat-downs.

There’s not a lot of good happening at Ole Miss besides Patterson.  The true sophomore leads the SEC in yards (1,792) and touchdowns (13), and is second in completion percentage (66.3).  Ole Miss has a trio of home games against beatable opponents (Vandy, LSU and Arkansas) before they travel to Lexington.  There’s talent on the roster, but their mentality and will to win may be completely eroded by November 4.

Vandy

  • Record: 3-3 (0-3)
  • Signature Win: 14-7 win over No. 18 Kansas State
  • vs. UK: at Vandy November 11
  • Today’s Game: at Ole Miss at 3:30 on SEC Network

Vandy’s start to the season was promising.  The Commodores went on the road and gutted out a victory against Middle Tennessee, a team projected in the preseason to finish near the top of C-USA.  Vanderbilt followed that up with a victory over FCS Alabama A&M and a 14-7 win over No. 18 Kansas State.  Then they made their  greatest misstep of the Derek Mason era: “Alabama, you’re next.”

The Crimson Tide out-gained Vanderbilt by 600 yards.  Six Hundred Yards.  Nick Saban might be persecuted for war crimes after that annihilation.

Alabama started Vanderbilt’s three-game skid that included a 38-24 loss at Florida and a 45-14 loss to Georgia. The Commodores’ offense averaged just 208 yards in the three-game losing streak.  It gets easier over the next three weeks, but wins won’t come easy at Ole Miss, at South Carolina and at home vs. WKU.

Ralph Webb and Kyle Shurmur are exceptional offensive weapons, but the defense isn’t the same without Zach Cunningham, who has been an excellent rookie for the Houston Texans.

Georgia

  • Record: 6-0 (3-0)
  • Signature Win: 20-19 at No. 24 Notre Dame
  • vs. UK: at Georgia November 18
  • Today’s Game: vs. Mizzou at 7:30 on SEC Network

The best team in the SEC East, Georgia used a close win on the road at Notre Dame to create a tidal wave of momentum that has not been slowed down by anybody.

The Georgia defense has been dominant.  Many believe Alabama has the best defense in the conference, but the Bulldogs beg to differ.  Led by junior linebacker Roquan Smith (7th in the SEC in tackles with 45), they are first in the conference in scoring and total defense.  Notre Dame is the only team they’ve played who’s scored more than 14 points.

Offensively, Georgia lost sophomore phenom Jacob Eason but didn’t miss a step with true freshman Jake Fromm.  The nation’s third-ranked high school quarterback a year ago has a 164 QB rating, the second-best in the SEC.  Fromm also has a delightful nickname.

Fromm doesn’t have to do a whole lot because he has Sony Michel and Nick Chubb in the backfield.  Chubb leads the SEC in rushing with 103 yards per game.  The Dawgs average 268 yards on the ground, ranked No. 11 in the country.

They are the best team left on Kentucky’s schedule but there is some good news: they travel to Auburn the week before Kentucky visits Athens.

Louisville

  • Record: 4-2 (1-2)
  • Signature Win: 47-35 at North Carolina
  • vs. UK: in Lexington November 25
  • Today’s Game: vs. Boston College at 12:20 on ACC Network

Last year Booger McFarland drew the ire of the Louisville fan base after he said the Cards were just, “Lamar Jackson and a bunch of dudes.”  If it wasn’t true last year, it definitely is this year.

Replacing Todd Grantham as the defensive coordinator was supposed to heal the wounded Cardinal defense, but that has not been the case.  Clemson, N.C. State, North Carolina and Purdue scored an average of 37.3 points on the UofL defense.  Without All-American cornerback Jaire Alexander, opposing offenses have picked on the secondary without much pressure after the blitz-heavy Grantham’s departure.

Offensively, Lamar Jackson does it all.  Handing the ball off to a running back has been productive at times, but Petrino has either not stuck with it or injuries have kept the productive backs off the field.  Jackson has a trio of elite wide receivers that are downfield threats — Seth Dawkins, Dez Fitzpatrick and Jaylen Smith — but tight end Micky Crum has not been as reliable as Cole Hikutini was in 2016.

Just like Miss. State, the way you beat UofL is by stopping their quarterback.  That’s not easy to do, but Kentucky can win win their second straight over UofL if they can mitigate Jackson’s effectiveness and score a lot of points.

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Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR