How does Kentucky solve Mississippi State?

There is an absolute monster of a football game set to take place on October 10th in Lexington, Kentucky. Mississippi State and former UK coordinator Mike Leach are coming to town with a revamped Bulldog offense to take on our Cats. Things are a little less hyped after Mississippi State’s shocking loss to Arkansas last week, but the Bulldogs are still 1-1 while our beloved Cats have started 0-2 and cannot stop a soul on the defensive side of the ball. I’m of the opinion that we have more than just a fighter’s chance, so we are going to dive into this together and figure out how the Cats can right this ship.

The first thing that needs to be discussed is our defense and what in the world has happened. It’s been reported that the UK secondary was the position group that had a run-in with COVID and this factors into the conversation now. But I like numbers, so let’s talk numbers. So far through two games, we are last in the nation in passing defense (per and are allowing an average QB rating of 195.63. For reference, our offense is producing a QB rating of 131.05 with solid play at quarterback. We are giving up 276.5 yards passing per game on 71.43% accuracy, while the average is 243.6 yards per game. Teams are also gaining 9.9 yards per play through the air and are passing at a 46.46% rate.

This defense has so far given up 35.5 points per game, over 8 points per game higher than the NCAA average for a defense. We also currently have only one pass breakup, three sacks, and four QB hurries. Two games isn’t a lot, but this isn’t promising for a defense that was coming into the season highly touted. Just compare this to 2019, when the defense averaged four pass breakups, 2.5 sacks, and 2.3 QB hurries per game, including our bowl win against Virginia Tech. Finally, to top this off, we are giving up third down conversions at a 45.45% clip compared to 38.55% in 2019. Another staggering number from this year is that we have given up nine passes of 20 yards or more through two games, while last year it was 28 after 13 games.

Now that these numbers have been laid out there, what do they mean? How do we stack up to Mississippi State's vaunted 2020 passing attack? Here you go: the Bulldogs are averaging 468 yards passing with a 65.8% completion rate. That says to me that we have a long way to go to stop this offense. They also have a QB rating of 139.52, which is pretty good as well. Taking a look at the LSU game where they dominated, you will see that LSU played a press man coverage for the majority of the game, causing them to give up the deep ball more frequently. When rushing the football, Mississippi State only averages 48 yards per game, nine of them coming against LSU in week one of play. A strong point so far for the Cats is our rushing defense. Only giving up 3.38 yards per carry and 115 yards per game will go a long way for us. But first, we have to force this air raid team to run the ball.

Mississippi State ranks first in the SEC for yards per game, but last week against Arkansas something changed for them. They still threw for 313 yards against the Razorbacks, but it came with only one TD and three interceptions. Going deeper into this, the Hogs frequently rushed only three guys up front and dropped eight into coverage to with a zone defense. Most likely this caused the Bulldog receivers to stay in front of all defenders and forced Costello to dissect a new defense while running the air raid, which he has been in for only a few months. Judging from the numbers, this tripped up Costello forcing him to make errors all day and end up with three interceptions. Kentucky has a -4 turnover margin and will need to come up with a few on Saturday to have a chance.

Now to what the Cats do well and how we win this thing. Kentucky is averaging 276.5 yards on the ground with an outstanding offensive line. Mississippi State has been great stopping the run, but neither team they’ve played is very strong early on. We also average 195 yards through the air with a rating of 131.05, which tells me Terry Wilson is doing his job. Mistakes are there, but Terry is the man for the job and should be treated as such. One big that stands out to me is Mississippi State having 10 sacks on the season, but our O-Line can keep them in check as we’ve only give up four in two games.

Kentucky will need to run the ball consistently like they have been, attack Mississippi State with zone coverage and an emphasis on D-Line pressure on Costello. Kentucky should be solid up front with Bohanna and McCall taking up space. Zone coverage implemented in practice and watching film on Arkansas will definitely be on the agenda all week long preparing for this matchup. Also, something that has definitely been lacking in 2020, winning the turnover battle and taking care of the little things. This combined with our offensive play should net the Cats their first victory in 2020.