Two of the SECs most potent rushing offenses will go head-to-head Saturday at 6 pm CT on Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. The undefeated Bulldogs of Mississippi State renew their yearly rivalry with the 3-0 Kentucky Wildcats, and each side is walking with a little swagger after perfect starts to their respective seasons. Here’s what the Mississippi State will have to do to come home from Lexington 4-0.
As potent as the rushing triumvirate of Hill, Williams, and Fitzgerald have been, Kentucky has a nearly comparable duo in Benny Snell at tailback and Terry Wilson as the Wildcats’ signal caller. To have success on defense, the Bulldogs will have to contain these two in the ground game. It should only take a few seconds of good pass coverage to force Wilson to tuck the ball and hoof it, and as long as the Bulldogs are ready for that possibility they should do pretty well. Kentucky lost a lot of production at receiver from last year, but Lynn Bowden is a play maker on that receiving corps that the secondary will have to be aware of. Turnovers are an interesting point—UK commits a lot of them, but MSU hasn’t been forcing that many. If Mississippi State can find a way to win the turnover battle, there’s not much Kentucky can do to swing things into their favor. On offense, MSU has been as potent as they’ve ever been since football was first played in Starkville. It all starts with the big boys up front—Stewart Reese, Elgton Jenkins, Daryl Williams, Greg Eiland, Tyre Phillips, and Deion Calhoun have been nasty and physical on the offensive line all season. This is as physical and hard-nosed a team as they’ve faced all season, but their 65 combined starts coupled with the brute strength they’ve shown through three games should give MSU an edge in the trenches. If they continue their near-flawless pass protection habits and run blocking proficiency, there’s no reason that three headed monster in the MSU backfield shouldn’t have its way Saturday night, like it has every game so far. It’s difficult to point out specific things Joe Moorhead’s needs to capitalize on when everything that unit has done this year has been stellar on all accounts. Therefore, I think the biggest keys are to play physical, be disciplined, and to limit mistakes. Let Nick Fitzgerald, Kylin Hill, Aeris Williams, and that talented receiver corps do what they do best. The talent favors the Bulldogs heavily, so all Coach Moorhead and the gang have to do is stick to their objectives and play within themselves. Another important thing to note is the improvements UK has been able to make after halftime. They are a completely different team coming out of the locker room for the third quarter, with a point difference of 45 to 67 for their offense and 33 to 13 for the defense between the first and second halves. The Bulldogs need to separate themselves from the Wildcats in the first half and be prepared to fend off a comeback in the second. Kentucky has provided a lot of bulletin board material for the Dawg’s coaching staff this week, with social media comments and press conference remarks. One thing that separates good teams from great teams is an ability to use that to fuel and motivate them without letting it cause them to be undisciplined and make mental mistakes. With the seniority of the players and level headedness of that coaching staff, I think the Wildcats will regret the extra attention they elicited from those boys down in Starkvegas. In summary: let the offense work, stop the run, win the turnover battle, and play hard and smart. If Mississippi State checks all of these boxes, they should come home to Starkville with their ninth win in ten tries vs their perennial SEC East foe.