Coming into Saturday afternoon’s matchup in Starkville, MS, Kentucky was indeed a six-point underdog to Mississippi State. While the Wildcats weren’t expected to win, one might have thought the halftime score would have been more competitive than 21-3 in favor of the Bulldogs.
Kentucky managed to move the ball up and down the field during the second half, but kicking woes and lack of execution in the red zone only allowed them to score 13 total points in a 28-13 loss.
The Wildcats’ passing offense didn’t play well at all, with quarterback Sawyer Smith having what seemed like a dozen passes nearly intercepted and his receivers dropping multiple passes that could’ve changed the game’s outcome. Kentucky’s rushing attack was productive, but a 21-3 deficit early on kept Kentucky in up-tempo fashion.
On defense, Kentucky was mostly formidable aside from the Bulldogs’ final drive to put the game out of reach. Still, though, the soft zone coverage by Kentucky’s secondary has to be adjusted.
Saturday’s defeat comes as their second straight after collapsing at home last week against Florida. The next game on their schedule won’t be any easier, either, as Kentucky hits the road in just six short days to visit the South Carolina Gamecocks. But first, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops and select players had these remarks following Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State, courtesy of UK Athletics.
Head coach Mark Stoops
MS: “I thought the story of the game was the way we started. I am very disappointed with the way we started the game. Very disappointed, really, with the entire first half; it did not feel like we played very good football in any phase. I did not see any signs of that during the week, but obviously I did not have them ready to play and come into an environment like this, against a tough, physical football team. [Mississippi State] beat us. They beat us in all phases, in particular the start. I challenged the guys at halftime and I am happy that we had enough pride in ourselves to regroup and come out and play with the type of attitude and fight [in the second half]. We really played the game the way you were supposed to, but we are not perfect and we still made a lot of mistakes. We have to get back and regroup. I have to do a better job at coaching them and we have to play better. We are going on the road again next week so we have to make it happen quickly.”
Q: People will see that start and just assume that it is hangover from last week, is itthat simple or is there other stuff going on?MS: “I do not think it is that simple, I really do not. I really do feel like we have had that before and that it can happen again later in the year. These guys are young men with a lot in their tank and we need to regroup. I think it was a situation where I have to do a better job at getting them ready to play. Coaches have to get them ready and I think, you know, you take an inexperienced team in certain positions on the road in a hostile environment and we were not up for the challenge. That is on all of us, but I do not think it is just as simple as a hangover. I really do not. I think it is a mentality that you have to have and you have to be a good football team to go on the road in a playing environment like this and win. We did not have that today.”
Q: What was going on with Sawyer Smith’s shoulder?MS: “Sawyer got hurt at the end of the second quarter. He got dinged up with his shoulder. He went in, got it X-rayed, and to start the second half he gave some throws and was hurting and had a pain. They X-rayed it, and then he came back. I thought he was done, but he came back and gutted it out and gave us everything he had in the second half, but he was dinged up with his shoulder. I would think he would be available next week, but I would not know, you never know how he is going to wake up and feel tomorrow.” Q: You knew going in that Kylin Hill would hurt you in the back, and that Garrett Shrader would have some scrambles, is there anything you can say about the film? MS: “I thought that both of them made some really tough, good plays, just like we thought. I think with Hill, you could see a great player there with a great desire to make some tough runs. That is a very good football player. Corning out of the game you just have more respect for them because you could see that he was very tough, very physical. He ran through some tackles and he was a grown man out there, and he really did a nice job. Shrader did good as well. He made some tough throws, and made live, physical runs. It is vintage Mississippi State. We have to do a better job and be a little stronger if we want to attack in certain spots. The third down ordeal hurt us again. It is a tough call. You know again, we got aggressive and it really backfired on us to be honest with you. In that third-and-four [yards] range, there are a lot of things that keep you off balance. We chose to be aggressive and that defensive is aggressive and the reads that they ran will put you in a tough spot. They ripped off the long run there. It is two weeks in a row in those situations and they have hurt us.”
QB Sawyer Smith
Q: They were able to get to you for some sacks. Was that more of a protection problem or you holding on to the ball too long?SS: “No, they were bringing some good blitzes today. They just got to me a few times. We made some plays, but that’s nothing on the offensive line. It’s more just me holding on to it too long.”
Q: Was this one of the more difficult environments you’ve ever played in?A: “No, I’ve played at Clemson, Death Valley, my freshman year. They had a good environment here, but Clemson was louder.”
Q: How do you feel you played today compared to the last three games when you weren’t out there as much?A: “I played a little bit better. I mean I could have stepped it up a lot more. I played a lot better than I have been in practice, so it gave me a little more trust in myself today. I feel like I did pretty good.”
Q: Can you put your finger on what was the reason for the slow start on defense?A: “No sir, not right now. I mean we were still communicating and were seeing what was going on. It was the first away game, so we were just trying to get used to the crowd and all. That’s probably what it was.”