JOE COX: Wildcats Will Have Better Showing Against Mississippi State in Saturday's SEC Showdown
By Joe Cox
Climb off the ledge, ‘Cat fans. We’ve been here before.
There was 59-21 in Knoxville (1998). Or 56-21 at home to UT (1999). Or 49-0 to LSU in Baton Rouge (2006). Maybe 63-5 at Florida (2008). 41-7 (2009, Florida). 48-14 (2010, at Florida).
So what should we know about the 41-3 loss to LSU? Sure, it was bad… but almost every UK football season has one of those games. Coach Rich Brooks (who was involved in two of the ones listed above) called them Total Systems Failures—games where nothing works right.
What else should we learn? Each of those teams above went to a bowl game. Getting the doors blown off did not ruin their seasons. In fact, both of Brooks’ teams followed their beatings at Baton Rouge and at Florida by beating… get this… Mississippi State.
Kentucky was awful Saturday night. It was total systems failure. The running game didn’t crack big runs. The passing game missed easy throws and alligator armed open passes. The kicking game generally covered LSU returns like middle school boys in a greasy pig contest.
But it’s over, and it’s past. And UK is 5-2 seven games into the season. This week brings its own challenge, as life in the Southeastern Conference usually does. But the sky isn’t falling. The ‘Cats will be fine. Relax. We’ve been here before.
Kentucky’s defense played better than the final stats will indicate. Most of LSU’s rushing yardage was amassed late against some simply gassed UK defenders. Particularly of note was the job UK did against all-word back Leonard Fournette, who had 15 carries for just 40 yards rushing. Fournette didn’t beat UK, everything else did.
Marcus McWilson had 10 tackles and a nice interception helping out in coverage. McWilson is making big plays, and will probably see the field more down the stretch.
Dorion Baker absolutely lit up LSU linebacker Kendall Beckwith, peeling back to block for Towles on a scramble. The SEC is reviewing the play, but I can save them the review. The play was legal, and Baker cleaned Beckwith’s clock. Nothing dirty about it, just dropping the hammer. Baker made almost the exact same play in the Ohio University game. I liked that one, I liked the one from the LSU game. I didn’t like the trash talk that Baker engaged in afterward. Let your play talk, young man.
Special teams, special teams, special teams. Craig Naviar’s group were outplayed from the word “go”. Kentucky opened the game in a weird kickoff formation before looping a pooch kick that was returned 49 yards, with a face mask tacking on another 15 yards. It didn’t get much better from there. A punt return touchdown broke the game open when UK showed no interest in things like coverage lanes. An LSU squib kick late in the first half was not covered by UK, giving the Tigers the ball… and more points. It would take a return to the Curry era to find worse special teams play at UK.
Patrick Towles was inaccurate when he had to be accurate, didn’t always look smooth in choosing to run or pass, and was generally mediocre. In his defense, he was harassed all night, and got little help from the run game or his receivers. But outside of one nice deep throw to Demarco Robinson (and another that Ryan Timmons lost in the lights), Towles showed little sign of the riverboat gambler who almost won at Florida. When nothing else works, he has to be in position to take some shots.
UK’s tight ends continue to be MIA (three catches for the season). Without anybody to work the middle of the field, Neal Brown’s offense turns into dink passes on the edge supplemented by trying to run the Wildcat through 8-9 defenders. Two things to look for—some attempt at throwing the ball into the middle and use of the sweep out of the Wildcat. If Kemp can’t throw (and he can’t), handing off to Timmons, Blue or whomever would still force the defense to honor the edges and not overcrowd the middle of the line.
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
Some of the parity was sorted out.
1. Mississippi State (6-0) Any questions?
2. Ole Miss (7-0) Probably a better team than MSU at the end of the day. If Bo Wallace holds up, the sky is the limit.
3. Alabama (6-1) Smoking Texas A&M like a JV team moves the back up. They’re still a slumbering giant, and let last week’s game stand as a reminder of what happens which Nick Saban gets mad.
4. Auburn (5-1) Might be #4 in the nation and the SEC. They’ve got as good of a chance as anybody.
5. Georgia (6-1) Have a heck of a shot to go 11-1 and play spoiler in the SEC title game. Could this be the year that Richt backs into some good luck?
6. LSU (6-2) Still has no QB. May never matter. Enough talent to beat any of the teams above them, but capable of enough bad football to go 7-5. Who knows?
7. Missouri (5-2) I guess. I have no explanation for how a team can dismantle Florida in the Swamp and lose to Indiana at home. Well, I mean, Florida is awful. But still.
8. Texas A&M (5-3) The SEC West pretenders are being separated from the contenders. Sorry, guys.
9. Kentucky (5-2) The sooner win six happens the better, but UK isn’t as bad as they played Saturday. That would be impossible.
10. Arkansas (3-4) The best SEC team ever with a 16 game conference losing streak? Maybe.
11. South Carolina (4-3) Not real good. But probably going bowling anyway.
12. Tennessee (3-4) Woeful offensive line= 4th straight year without a bowl.
13. Florida (3-3) But their new coach will be much better.
14. Vanderbilt (2-5) Rumors that Vandy lost to the bye week are probably unfounded. Probably.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
How do you eat an elephant? Because that’s kind of what beating No. 1 Mississippi State on Saturday seems like. UK has had some success over the years against No. 1 squads, and as a 12 point underdog, UK plainly has something of a chance. It won’t be easy.
To start with, Miss. St. QB Dak Prescott is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Prescott is hitting on 62 percent of his passes for 1478 yards, 14 TDs, and just four interceptions in half of the season. He’s also run the ball 106 times for 576 yards and 8 more scores. Running back Josh Robinson is a tough physical runner, who has 689 yards and eight rushing TDs himself. De’Runnya Wilson is the best Bulldog receiver, but the team is a double threat. They average 5.5 yards per carry and 264 yards rushing per game—but also throw for 265 yards per game.
Defensively, the Bulldogs like to bring pressure. The Bulldogs are +3 on turnovers, and have 21 QB sacks in their six games. Defensive end Preston Smith has four and a half sacks, and linebacker Benadrick McKinney, who is MSU’s leading tackler, has three more. If you can handle the heat, you can gain some yards on the ‘Dogs, who are allowing 429 yards per game.
State is a bit untested on special teams. Their kickers haven’t made a field goal of 30-plus yards yet this year. The punting game has been fine as has the return game, but neither has made a lot of big plays.
I don’t think UK’s horrible outing against LSU will impact the rest of the season in a serious way. I also don’t think the ‘Cats will have an answer for Prescott. UK will make it interesting, but in the end…
MISSISSIPPI STATE 38, UK 24
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
A 6-0 record for last weekend's games makes it 50-7 for the season. My closest pick was Carolina 45-10 over Furman (it was 41-10). My worst—well, I thought Florida would at least show up against Mizzou. Silly me. Let’s see if I can have another perfect week.
Week 9 Predictions:
Arkansas 49, UAB 14
Mississippi State 38, Kentucky 24
Missouri 38, Vandy 7
Ole Miss 31, LSU 17
Alabama 45, Tennessee 13
Auburn 49, South Carolina 20