Kentucky entered the win column after beating Mississippi State 24-2 on Saturday night. The Wildcat defense dominated the game with six interceptions and held the high flying Air Raid to zero points and 295 total yards. The offense was a different story after being limited to 157 total yards. Let’s take a closer look:
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Looking back at my post, “How Kentucky beats Mississippi State“…
Rush for 200-yards. UK did not achieve this goal; in fact, the Cats rushed for 84 yards while averaging 2.6 yards per carry. Mississippi State’s unique 3-3-5 defense, the errant punt snap that resulted in a 48-yard loss which is factored into the rushing total category, and the lack of a downfield passing game were factors that led to an unusual low amount of production on the ground. Minus the 48-yard loss, UK’s ball carriers ran for 132 yards. Mississippi State defenders loaded the box while recording six tackles for loss which kept the Cats off schedule for the majority of the game.
No turnovers. AJ Rose had one fumble.
50% plus on 3rd down conversions. The Wildcats were leading the nation with a 60% conversion ratio on 3rd down going into the Mississippi State game. The Bulldogs held the Cats to 28.5%. Again, the Cats were forced to be off schedule which led to a higher number of passing attempts late in offensive possessions.
Find a third and fourth receiver. This did not happen. Josh Ali led the team with two catches that resulted in 22 yards. Demarcus Harris and Allen Dailey each had one reception for a total of 5 yards.
More of the same from Terry Wilson. Wilson completed 77% of his passes vs. Ole Miss. He completed 40% vs. the Bulldogs. Wilson was also held to 50 rush yards which is 35 fewer than his season average.
Score touchdowns in the Red Zone. UK was 2/3 in this category after Keaton Upshaw caught a TD pass and Chris Rodriguez rushed for a score inside the 20-yard line.
Clean up the little things. Rose had a fumble for the second consecutive game. Miss. State pressured Wilson on a consistent basis and there were lesser running lanes than in its previous two games.
Steal possessions. Six interceptions, two QB sacks, and holding Mississippi State to 17.6% on 3rd down were possession-stealing factors that led to a defensive shutout.
Tackle in space. Kentucky was excellent in this category. The linebackers combined for 42 tackles and 4 interceptions. The defense limited the Bulldogs to just 3.5 yards per play. Mississippi State’s longest pass play covered 23 yards. UK held MSU to 6.1 yards per completion.
Eye discipline. Again, excellent. Kentucky’s zone defenders did not let pass catchers behind them and looked down the quarterback’s eyes prior to breaking on the football. WR Osirus Mitchell was averaging 122 yards per game to go along with a 20-yard average per catch. He caught 2 passes for 3-yards on Saturday.
Fight for 50/50 balls. No 50/50 opportunities due to maintaining outstanding deep ball responsibility.
Create turnovers. Six interceptions. Wildcat linebackers accounted for four, defensive line one, and the secondary registered one. All three levels of the defense contributed to this objective.
Kick the ball. Matt Ruffolo was perfect on PATs and FGs. Max Duffy was Max Duffy. Mississippi State’s only points were a result of a bad punt snap that led to a loss of 48 yards and a safety.
WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN?
Brad White’s defense showed vast improvement by pitching a shutout. The Cats deflated the Air Raid to just 4 yards per play, 6.1 yards per reception, 295 total yards, and forced six interceptions. K.J. Costello was averaging 468 pass yards per game. He was limited to 232 with zero touchdowns and threw four interceptions. Tackling in space was a critical factor that we discussed in pregame posts and podcasts. The Cats were extremely strong vs. MSU and efficiently brought down Bulldog pass catchers soon after the catch. An example of this was RB Kylin Hill’s 15 receptions that resulted in just 79 yards (5.2 yards per catch). The All-SEC RB was averaging close to 20 yards per reception coming into Saturday’s matchup. MSU’s longest pass play covered 23 yards. Overall, the defense was excellent. All three levels executed on an extremely high level.
Offense was a different matter. Kentucky ran 53 plays that accumulated 157 total yards. The Wildcats’ rushing attack produced 84 yards (2.6 yards per carry). It must be noted that the bad punt snap that resulted in a 48-yard loss was factored into the run and total-yardage categories. However, UK only had 32 rushing attempts which is a lower than desired number. Terry Wilson was constantly under pressure. He completed 8 out of 20 passes for 73 yards. Mississippi State’s 3-3-5 defense was as good as advertised and recorded 6 tackles for loss to go along with 2 QB sacks. UK was leading the nation in Time of Possession prior to Saturday. It controlled the football for just 25:11. Several three-and-outs led to this result. It seemed as if the UK offense was out of sorts especially in the 3rd quarter.
A win is a win, especially in the SEC. The defense played lights out for 60 minutes. The offense struggled. Special teams had a critical error. With Tennessee on deck, the Wildcats have to rediscover its offensive identity and travel the same defensive performance to Knoxville.