Kentucky Wildcats Football: An early look at the Mississippi State game


Mississippi State – October 29, 2011 – Lexington, KY

Kentucky shouldn’t have much of a problem with Jacksonville State, but they’ll have Mississippi State coming to town a week later and the Bulldogs are a completely different caliber team. Dan Mullen has his MSU squad on the upswing after a surprise 9-4 finish to the 2010 season. The Bulldogs will return senior quarterback Chris Relf, and while he is clearly no Tim Tebow, he’s talented enough to win tough games for MSU. The problem that Mississippi State will face in 2011 is that their schedule is a relative murderers row. They’ll play a relatively easy out of conference schedule in Memphis, Louisiana tech, UAB, and UT-Martin, but their SEC slate isn’t as kind. The Bulldogs will face Auburn, Georgia, the Cats, and Arkansas on the road, and drew LSU, South Carolina, Alabama, and Ole Miss at home. Regardless of how tough their schedule is, Mississippi State knows how to win, as evidenced by their road victory at Florida last year and a waylaying of Michigan in their bowl game. The Bulldogs have beaten Kentucky two years in a row and will look to make it three this fall.

Why Kentucky will win…
Mississippi State’s offensive roster is less than intimidating. Chris Relf had a good junior season last year, but he’s been extremely inconsistent in his time at MSU and is just as likely to lose the game for his team as he is to win it. And really, there’s no guarantee he’ll even be starting come October. Sophomore Tyler Russell played last year as a change-of-pace option for the Bulldogs and will challenge Relf for the starting job this season. Add to that, that Dylan Favre came in and blew up in the spring game. The old saying goes something like “If you have two quarterbacks, you have none,” I would think that applies to three as well. The receivers are all good possession guys, but the tallest guy expected to contribute is junior Chris Smith, who’s only 6-2 and 205. The rest of the group averages about 5’10-5’11. While the offensive line is big and has experience, they’ve been a weak-link for the team in the offseason this year and will need to find someone to replace first-round pick Derek Sherrod. The defensive line is light and should be easy enough for the talented UK offensive line to get out of the way. The Bulldogs will replace all three starting linebackers from last season as well and starting the year with that many question marks in your front seven typically spells trouble. Kentucky should be able to establish an effective running game against the Bulldogs and use it to set up the play action passes. If Kentucky can do that and get pressure on whoever the quarterback ends up being, the Cats defense should be able to convert mistakes into turnovers. UK fans know all to well that turnovers usually equal a loss.

Kentucky will lose if…
They follow their recent history and let Mississippi State overpower them. The Bulldogs have Dan Mullen calling the shots on offense and he’s known for using a shotgun heavy, complicated offense. Despite being back in the gun so much, the Bulldogs still saw over half of their offense come from rushing yards in 2010. For all of the question marks on the roster, there is an obvious strength, and that’s the running back stable that MSU has assembled. Senior Vic Ballard finished last season with just under 1,000 rushing yards and was one of the most complete backs in the conference. He returns and will be looking to run over Kentucky again after averaging a whopping 7.4 yards a carry in the contest last year. The Cats must stop the run if they want to beat the Bulldogs, and stopping the run has been the Achilles heel for Kentucky defenses for most of the last decade. If UK’s undersized defensive front can’t hold up against the monster blocking for Ballard, the Wildcats will drop to three straight losses against the Bulldogs.

What I think happens…
Kentucky starts the game extremely slow and Newton struggles to get into a rhythm against an experienced group of defensive backs for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs will establish a running attack and will catch Kentucky sleeping with a couple of play action passes. The Wildcat’s see two backs go over 70 yards and the defense will come up with at least three turnovers in an epic game.

Final Score: UK 38 – MSU 35 2OT

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