Once again, it's time to look at our foe for this week, examine the statistics, and see how things work out.
This week, our opponent is the Mississippi State University Bulldogs. Kentucky has a fairly long history with MSU, and they are one of three teams against whom Kentucky actually has a historical winning record in the SEC (the other two are Vanderbilt and Arkansas).
Be that as it may, Mississippi State is no walkover this year, and Kentucky should be concerned about their upcoming tussle with the Bulldogs in Commonwealth on Saturday. One reason is that MSU has beaten Auburn University at Jordan-Hare Stadium on the Plains. That is no mean feat, as Florida, and nearly LSU as well, have discovered to their woe. Any team that can go down to Auburn and beat the Tigers in their den deserves respect.
Not only that, but the Bulldogs don't have a bad team at all this year. They were drubbed by LSU early, but they have had close losses to South Carolina and Tennessee. The bottom line is, if you take the Bulldogs for granted, they are more than capable of handing you your helmet -- with your head in it!
So now that I've built up one of the weaker teams in the SEC into a sleeping ogre needing only a nudge to rip off our collective heads, let's take a look at what the statistics say:
|Points / Game||42||28.8||13.2||21.6||26.6||-5|
|Yards / Game||466.5||387||79.5||290.4||344.1||-53.8|
|Rushing Yards / Game||187.1||191.8||-4.7||143.5||157||-13.5|
|Passing Yards / Game||279.4||195.2||84.2||146.9||187.1||-40.2|
|Yards / Play||6.1||5.4||0.7||4.4||5.2||-0.9|
|Rushing Yards / Carry||4.9||4.7||0.1||3.6||4.3||-0.7|
|Passing Yards / Attempt||7.4||6.2||1.2||5.4||6.3||-0.9|
|Passing Yards / Completion||11.5||11.4||0.1||10.7||11.3||-0.7|
|Passing Completion %||64.4||54.4||10||50.9||55.5||-4.5|
|Punt Return Average||7.6||3.8||3.8||6||10.7||-4.7|
|Yards / 7 Points||77.7||94.2||16.5||94||90.5||-3.5|
|Plays / 7 Points||12.7||17.6||4.8||21.6||17.4||-4.3|
|Rushing Play %||50.4||56.3||-5.9||59.6||54.9||4.6|
|Passing Play %||49.6||43.7||5.9||40.4||45.1||-4.6|
|Turnovers / Game||1.6||2||0.4||2.2||1.7||-0.5|
|Fumbles / Game||1||0.7||-0.2||0.9||0.6||-0.2|
|Intercept / Game||0.6||1.2||0.6||1.4||1.1||-0.2|
As you might imagine, we enjoy an overwhelming statistical advantage in this game offensively. We dominate virtually every statistic which we compare on offense, and do so by a wide margin. That's because UK has one of the most powerful offenses in college football, and the second most potent in the entire SEC, but I'm sure you knew that.
MSU is pretty much a team that tries to control the game in the traditional way offensively -- use primarily the run combined with some passing plays to try to keep the defense on the field for long stretches. Unfortunately, this tactic hasn't been entirely successful due to their relatively weak offense. MSU's red zone efficiency has been very good, a respectable 90% -- not bad at all for a team who currently ranks next to last in the SEC in our power poll. Kentucky is only slightly better at 93%, but as you can tell by the points/game differential, the Wildcats do it mostly with touchdowns. Mississippi State has a hard time getting the ball into the end zone against quality competition.
Kentucky has a major advantage in the passing game, and a rather more manageable advantage rushing the football. Junior quarterback Michael Hennig threw six (6!) interceptions in MSU's first game with LSU. Since then, a freshman named Wesley Carroll has improved MSU's passing game, but he isn't anywhere near the level of the Heisman candidate, André Woodson. Sophomore tailback Anthony Dixon leads the Bulldogs in rushing with a respectable 94 yards per game. Still, the Dawgs lag behind the Cats in all offensive areas.
Theoretically, the Bulldogs are a better defensive team than the Wildcats. MSU ranks out as the 40th best team in the NCAA FBS in total defense, while the Wildcats manage to stagger in at 63rd, although for those of you who remember our 118th ranking in total defense from last year, you can see why the Cats are not inordinately disturbed by this disparity.
As you can see, MSU holds opponents to a slightly lower yards per play and yards per carry figure than the Wildcats manage, (a reflection of similar advantages in total rushing and passing yards). Unlike the Wildcats, however, the Bulldogs gain less yardage both in passing and rushing than they surrender to opponents, and virtually none of their opponents to date wields an offense like they will see on Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium.
MSU has a slight advantage on defense, but it will not likely avail them, because they are just too impotent on offense.
Unfortunately, special teams are not very special for the Bulldogs. They rank in the bottom third in every single special-teams category except for two -- opponent kickoff returns and punting, which MSU does quite a bit of. Kentucky, conversely, has only 3 categories of special teams in the bottom third, and very solid stats for the balance. Kentucky is particularly adept at limiting opponent punt returns, where we rank 6th in the country.
Intangibles and Injuries
The intangibles should be on the Wildcat's side this game -- after all, it is homecoming. Both teams are coming into this game off losses, MSU a drubbing at the hands of the powerful West Virgina Mountaineers, and Kentucky a tough loss to even more powerful Florida.
Injury-wise, Kentucky seems to be hurting more than the Dawgs. It seems unlikely that Keenan Burton will play Saturday, and Tony Dixon is also doubtful. With Raphael Little out until at least the Vanderbilt game, that puts us pretty thin at running back, with Derrick Locke taking the lead and Alfonso Smith helping out, although Smith is also still feeling the effects of a high-ankle sprain suffered earlier in the season.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are pretty much fully healthy coming into this game, if you don't count the bruised egos from the drilling they took in Morgantown.
This is a game in which we will be as strong a favorite as we will be against any SEC team this year, but there are worse teams in the league than MSU, and maybe more than just one. MSU has played some respectable football and some lousy football, pretty much like all rebuilding teams do. Syslvester Croome took over a team on probation, just like Rich Brooks, and although it isn't showing up that much in the W/L column, MSU is a team that is improving.
Our offense alone should be much more than the Bulldogs can handle, even with several significant players on the bench with injury. If the line can do a decent job of protecting Woodson and Locke can continue to perform as he has against much tougher competition than the Dawgs, we should be fine. It is very important for the fan base, as well as the team, to take Mississippi State with the seriousness they have earned -- Auburn took them lightly, and got handed an embarrassing home defeat for their trouble. MSU is more than capable of doing the same to the Wildcats. But I don't think they will.
My prediction: Kentucky, 42, Mississippi State 22.
[editor's note, by Truzenzuzex] I didn't do a "ten questions" or blogswap this time because I couldn't find an active MSU blogger to do it with. MSU blogs are rare. Apologies to those who look forward to that, I promise to try to do one for the Vandy game. There are several excellent Vandy blogs.