Kentucky is getting ready to take on Mississippi State under the lights of Kroger Field on Saturday. With an 0-2 record, this game could be as important as any third game of the season that the Cats have had recently.
If there is one part of the game that UK is dominating, it would be the running the ball. So far, the Cats are leading the SEC in rushing offense (276.5 yards per game), and against Ole Miss they had three rushers with more than 100 yards in a game for the first time in the modern era.
That furious rushing attack might face their toughest challenge yet against the Bulldogs. With a defensive formation of 3-3-5, defensive coordinator Zach Arnett coaches an aggressive defense that gives the quarterback a lot of different looks and blitzes from many different angles. So far in the season, Mississippi State has just allowed 71.5 rushing yards per game, proving to be pretty stout up front.
What most impresses UK Head Coach Mark Stoops about Arnett’s defense is how hard they work, along with the great amount of pressure from many different angles that they put on you.
“The first thing that stands out that you have to compliment and that I like to watch when you put on the film, is they play hard,” he said on Thursday. “And that’s a reflection of Zach (Arnett) and their defensive coaches and their staff in general. I think they play extremely hard, but I think he is very multiple and aggressive as far as stunting and blitzing and things of that nature of creating some pressures. Even in the run game.”
With that said, what might be the most daunting part of facing the Mississippi State football squad is their passing game as part of the new system put in by head coach Mike Leach. The Bulldogs lead the nation in passing yards per game (468.0) and have shown to be able to put up massive amounts of points in any given outing.
And that could be very difficult for Kentucky, as the Cats have already given up seven passing touchdowns this season, only two behind their season total last year. Also, against Ole Miss, they lost their streak of 18 consecutive games holding an opponent from 30+ points as the Rebels pinned 42 on them.
UK Head Coach Mark Stoops highlighted the explosive plays given up against Ole Miss, and looks to limit those as they prepare to take on the Bulldogs.
“That’s why it’s important to play good as a team. The more opportunities, the more plays we gave Ole Miss, the more opportunity they have to make big plays, and that comes from possessions as well. They had more possessions than we’re used to defending, but have to do a better job at limiting explosive plays. And certainly when you play Mike (Leach), he has answer for everything. He’s been doing it a long, long time,” he said.
Even with the potential explosiveness from the Bulldogs’ offense, they have shown some early-season inconsistency. Despite putting up crazy numbers in a 44-34 win at LSU to open the year, they lost to Arkansas 21-14 in their next game. The Razorbacks threw different defensive formations to throw off the air raid offense that Mississippi State now has, and that could be a very important factor in leading to a UK victory.
In fact, what we have seen in the history of Mike Leach no matter what school he has coached at, it is that his offense can get really, really hot or not be able to get going. If the Cats are going to take their first victory on Saturday, it is all the more important to control the clock and limit the explosive plays that could get the Bulldogs going.