UK/Mississippi State football preview

GAME 8 – 10/31/2009
7 PM EST – ESPN 360


2008: UK 14 MISS ST 13
2007: MISS ST 31 UK 14
2006: UK 34 MISS ST 31
2005: UK 13 MISS ST 7
2004: MISS ST 22 UK 7

It seems like I say this every game, but the Mississippi State game is UK’s biggest game of the year and a must win. If UK wins, they would be 5-3 going into next week’s sure win against EKU and have a realistic shot at a 8-4 season and going bowling outside the state of Tennessee. Lose, and it looks like Nashville for the holidays. Again.
Mississippi has a new coach this year, former UF offensive co-ordinator Dan Mullen, and the Bulldogs have accounted pretty well for themselves this year. In a way, UK and MSU are very similar. Both teams want to break into the upper tier of their division and both are trying to shed that label as “automatic win on the schedule”.
On that aspect, the Bulldogs are doing very well this season, losing an heartbreaker to #7 LSU 30-26, lost to highly touted Houston 31-24, and giving the #1 Gator’s all they wanted, losing 29-19. For those that look at the Florida game and get worried, keep in mind that Mississippi State was drilled by the free falling Auburn Tigers 49-24. So much for comparing common opponents. Let’s take a look at the Bulldogs.
The interesting thing about this game is the fact that UK may actually have the better passing game in the matchup. To be nice, the Bulldog’s passing game, led by Tyson Lee has been anemic at best. Lee has passed for 1126 yards and has just 3 TD’s vs 9 INT’s on the season. Lee has not passed for a touchdown since October 3 and has 5 INT’s vs 0 TD’s in his last 3 games. He does complete 60% of his passes, so UK should look for a lot of short dump offs. Chris Relf, who appears to be their “Wildcat QB” actually has 3 TD’s vs 2 INT’s this season but it’s worth noting that those 3 TD’s were in the season opener vs Jackson State and that Relf has just thrown 6 passes in the last 6 games. Relf is averaging 5.7 yards a carry however.
Senior Anthony Dixon is a bull in the running game as he has 749 yards on the season and has put together 5 100 yard games and has 7 TD’s rushing. Relf is a solid back that should get about 25 carries a game and has the potential to break the long run as he has 2 rushes over 50 yards this season. Christian Ducre is a very nice second option in the rushing attack as he is averaging 6 yards a carry and has 254 yards on the year. The Bulldogs boast the NCAA’s 18th best rushing attack, averaging 203 yards a game.
Freshman Chad Bumpis is the leading receiver for the Bulldogs with 24 catches for 270 yards and 3 TD’s. Almost half of that yardage (123 yards) came against Georgia Tech and Bumpis has just had 1 TD the last 7 weeks. TE Marcus Green is the second receiving target with 21 catches for 258 yards. 100 of those yards were against LSU, so I guess you can say that the Bulldogs have receivers that can hurt you in any given game, but there is not a lot to be scared of here. Leon Berry is the other starting WR but he is good for about 2 catches and 25 yards a game.

Fortunately, UK gets to face a defense that it can have some success with. The MSU defense is giving up 24.6 yards a game and about 142 yards a game on the ground. The pass defense ifs giving up about 215 yards a game, so it appears the Bulldogs are vulnerable on all fronts. LB Jamar Cheney is solid and leads the Bulldogs in tackles. Johnathan Banks is a dangerous CB and has 4 INT’s on the season, and has returned two of them for touchdowns. As a team, the Bulldog have 4 “pick 6’s” on the season, with two of them coming against Tim Tebow. While the stats for the Bulldog D are not impressive as a whole, this is a defense that plays to the level of the competition and can make the big plays to keep the Bulldog in the game.

At first glance, these teams appear evenly matched and this should be a very competitive game. Both teams are inconsistent at best in the passing game and boast a solid running game. Both teams have a “bend but don’t break” defense that will keep the team in the game. It sounds odd to say that the Bulldogs have played their best football at home as they are 1-4 there, but the good games against LSU, Houston, and Florida all occurred in Starkville. On the road, the Bulldogs crushed MTSU and Vandy, but were crushed by Auburn so it appears that a raucous crowd on Commonwealth can be a huge advantage.

I am going to say the same thing I said last week. UK needs to see a solid night from Newton/Fidler (whoever starts) and would need about 200 yards passing to get this passing offense kick started. The rushing offense should be able to match that 200 yards and in the tradition of the games in this rivalry, should be enough to propel UK to a hard fought 21-17 victory.