LSU at Kentucky -- Game Breakdown

This is the game that we all looked at when we were parsing the schedule, and figured for a loss.  Almost every Kentucky fan had this game circled on our calendar, because we know what happened last year in Death Valley.  We knew that LSU would have a great team this year, and would be likely to contend for the national championship.  And just as we imagined it, so it is in reality.

We will look at a statistical comparison of LSU and Kentucky, but having watched LSU play several games this year, I know what they will bring to the party.  In earlier posts, I have adopted a variation on Richard Pittman's comparison of the Wildcats vs. the Tigers, which suggests that the Bayou Bengals are "harder" than Kentucky.  I find this description rather apt. 

Not that the Cats are "soft", they aren't -- LSU is just an extraordinarily tough, hard-nosed team.  To my mind, they play the kind of "smash-mouth" football we are used to seeing in the Big Ten, but with the SEC's extraordinary athleticism and speed.  The combination is a very tough one to overcome, as every single one of their opponents to date have discovered to their woe.  But now, it's time to look at the stats:

Statistic UK Opponents Differential LSU Opponents Differential
Points / Game 42.7 24.7 18.0 37.8 9.3 28.5
Yards / Game 474.2 377.7 96.5 432.0 197.8 234.2
Rushing Yards / Game 212.5 183.7 28.8 227.3 58.5 168.8
Passing Yards / Game 261.7 194.0 67.7 204.7 139.3 65.4
Yards / Play 6.4 5.3 1.1 6.0 3.3 2.7
Rushing Yards / Carry 5.5 4.6 0.9 5.0 1.9 3.1
Passing Yards / Attempt 7.3 6.2 1.1 7.6 4.7 2.9
Passing Yards / Completion 11.3 11.5 -0.2 12.8 11.3 1.5
Passing Completion % 64.7 53.4 11.2 59.3 41.8 17.5
Punt Return Average 8.0 3.8 4.2 5.4 6.8 -1.3
Yards / 7 Points 77.8 107.2 29.4 79.9 148.4 68.4
Plays / 7 Points 12.2 20.2 8.0 13.4 45.0 31.6
Rushing Play % 51.9 55.7 -3.8 62.6 50.8 11.8
Passing Play % 48.1 44.3 3.8 37.4 49.2 -11.8
Turnovers / Game 1.8 2.5 0.7 0.8 2.8 2.0
Fumbles / Game 1.3 1.0 -0.3 0.2 1.0 0.8
Intercept / Game 0.5 1.5 1.0 0.7 1.8 1.2
Turnover % 2.5 3.5 1.1 1.2 4.7 3.6
Fumble % 3.4 2.5 -0.9 0.4 3.3 2.9
Intercept % 1.4 4.8 3.4 2.5 6.2 3.7

Offense

As usual, the green represents a statistic that favors LSU, and the yellow represents a statistic that favors us.  Even though you see that we actually gain more yards/game overall and are very close in rushing, the differential is what requires that these statistics favor LSU so heavily.  Notice that the net yardage they gain (yardage gained minus yardage surrendered) is more than 2-1 in LSU's favor in overall yards and a whopping 6-1 running the football.  Those two numbers right there are simply mind-numbing, and of course, most of it comes from the stinginess of their defense, which we'll get to next.

The one area where we are competitive with LSU is in the passing game.  We pass for more yardage and are very competitive at 1.3-1 vs. LSU's 1.4-1.  Other offensive statistics are similarly lopsided in favor of LSU, not in raw numbers but net.

But there is one thing that doesn't really show up here, and that is the fact that LSU's offense, while powerful and efficient, is really as close as they come to an Achilles' heel.  They are a good offense, but not an overwhelming one.  They are 77th in the nation in passing offense, but 12th in rushing.  That means that they can be stopped if we can have an exceptional game against the run.  Unfortunately, our defense is only 91st in the nation against the run, but we did have a very good game against USC's backs.  Perhaps that will carry over.

Defense

I would love to find one area in particular where Kentucky is as good as LSU on defense, but there really just isn't one.  Intercept % is about as close as we come.  We are competitive with them in pass efficiency defense (23rd vs. LSU's #1), but they are the #4 rushing defense in the country and #2 in scoring defense, vs. Kentucky's #91 and #55 respectively.

Notice that LSU is holding opponents to only 198 total yards/game.  I really don't believe they can do that to UK -- USC had a pretty good defense, but we still racked up over 342 yards in offense against them.  But then again, USC was threatening Woodson all night, and their defensive line is significantly inferior to LSU's, and that is not even considering the extraordinary ability of the all-American Glenn Dorsey at right defensive tackle.

Special Teams and Intangibles

Interestingly enough, LSU's special teams are nothing special.  We have had better punt coverage, better kick and punt returns.  Their kickoff return coverage has been slightly better than ours, but nothing to write home about.

Intangibles favor the Wildcats in this one.  Not only are we at home on a special weekend, but LSU is coming off a very difficult and emotional victory against Florida.  It is unlikely that they will take Kentucky too seriously despite the admonitions of the coaching staff, because none of the Great Powers in the SEC take us seriously.  That will work to our advantage.

Conclusion

Statistically, this is a mismatch, but not nearly so much as USC-Stanford, Michigan-AppState, or even Louisville-Syracuse.  For this reason, we know the Cats have a chance to pull what would be considered a huge upset, but no way it compares to the upsets that we have already seen.  UK is (legitimately, in my mind) a top-20 ranked team, we are at home, and we have arguably the most powerful offense in the league.  If we are able to score on LSU's defense, we will have an opportunity to beat them.  If Dorsey & Co. live in our offensive backfield, we will almost surely lose. 

Our offensive line will face a challenge of Davidian proportions.  If they can find some formula to protect Woodson and create holes for our backs to hit through LSU's mighty defensive front, great things can happen for UK.  LSU can't win a shootout with anybody, but normally, they don't have to face one.

LSU has already faced one strong offensive team in Florida, and the Gators very nearly got the job done.  That should give us hope, but I am a realist.  Kentucky doesn't have the talent in the lines or on the defensive side of the football to take out the Tigers, at least I can't find a way to persuasively make that case.  Therefore, my prediction is a "moral victory":  LSU: 30, Kentucky 27.

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