I’m not even sorry for writing about Kentucky football. Ever since I decided to attend Kentucky 14 years ago I’ve been sucked in to the football team. There’s been some seasons of fun – shout out beating Georgia in 2006, Louisville and No. 1 LSU in 2007. There’s been some disasters, but either way I’m sucked in. That’s why we’re blogging this. Plus, it’s a Saturday morning, so what else are we going to do?
Tonight at Kroger Field (Commonwealth Stadium was still so much better) Kentucky hosts what will be the second best team it plays this season in Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are a 10 point favorite (at time of writing this) but, we’ve seen Kentucky already win outright as a double-digit underdog. Suck it, Florida.
So let’s get into tonight’s game. What to expect. Matchups to watch. Those sort of things.
First off, you have to start with can Kentucky get pressure on Nick Fitzgerald? I’ve talked about him before and will all year before he ends up getting picked in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Josh Allen, the outside linebacker for Kentucky needs to be a difference maker here. During his last two seasons (not counting these 3 games) he’s had 14 sacks. He does a great job of getting off the line of scrimmage and uses a speed rush to get in the backfield. While he has to get pressure he has to be smart in his rush.
Fitzgerald is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. He accounted for 6 touchdowns in their game game against Louisiana-Lafayette, which sure, isn’t the best team, but 6 touchdowns is 6 touchdowns. You have to put pressure on Fitzgerald and force him into quick throws and a hand in the face. He’s pretty good about taking care of the ball, but he’s better about not getting hit. When Kentucky beat Mississippi State two years ago it held Fitzgerald to 107 rushing yards and just 81 passing yards. He’s obviously better now than he was then, but you have to limit his rushing to preferably under 100 yards.
That’s the key as long as you keep Kylin Hill in check. The sophomore running back took to Twitter earlier this week and got into a spat with Benny Snell. Both are incredible running backs but do it in two different ways. Hill is a quicker runner that wants to get out in space too. It’s going to be key for the linebackers, especially Kash Daniel, to spy and make the first tackle. Allen and Daniel is the key here defensively. Outside of those two, they need the secondary to have a big game. Mississippi State does have Stephen Guidry and Keith Mixon as the receiving corps. UKhas to stay home defensively in the secondary as both guys are averaging over 16 yards per catch.
Offensively, expect a ton of running. But, the key, as it is until proven otherwise is Terry Wilson taking care of the ball. We saw the great and bad with Wilson in the win at Florida. At the end of the first half, Wilson fumbled on a QB power and then threw just a terrible pick. The second half? We saw him scramble, hit Lynn Bowden for a touchdown and take care of the ball. Mississippi State’s defense is loaded, Wilson can’t panic and needs to take care of the ball. More importantly, no more QB powers. Get Wilson on rollouts and the fake pitches they like to run with him. That sets up the play action and Wilson does throw a pretty good long ball.
But, back to the run game. It’s going to be a lot of Benny Snell. That is as long as the o-line can try and take care of Jeffrey Simmons, one of the best d-lineman in the SEC. Kentucky does return an experienced O-Line and they’ve looked decent through the first three games. They need to try and get some misdirection to get Simmons moving and the inside of the O-Line has to move Simmons off the ball.
One thing to note is Mississippi State, while deep and talented at corner, will be without Jamal Peters who is suffering a leg injury. Combine that with Mississippi State being aggressive defensively and you can hit them with that play action if you get the run game going. That’s what Stoops/Gran wants to do. They want to establish the run and quick hitters before letting Wilson go deep. If Kentucky can move the ball running early on, look for them to set up Bowden on a deep post.
All in all, this is a great spot for Kentucky. You’re 3-0 with the win over Florida. You’re at home against Mississippi State, a team that they beat two years ago. I can’t believe I’m even writing this, but a win here and Kentucky is set up for a magical season.
There’s no doubt it’s going to be tough. As I mentioned outside of Georgia, Mississippi State is easily the second best team that UK will see this year. Stoops and Gran have to be aggressive with their playcalling as you know Mississippi State can score. Don’t just settle for 3rd and longs, which was the problem in recent years. Take advantage of the speed you have this year and please no more QB powers. Just give the ball to Benny if you’re going to do that. Get Wilson outside and let him use his legs and arms on rollouts and pitches. Also, don’t forget that you have CJ Conrad at tight end. Get him involved early in those quick seam passes they like to run to him.
Oh, one more thing:
Cats by 3. Please.