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Unscientific Preview: MSU


Kentucky vs. Mississippi State

Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Lexington, KY
Television: ESPN360.com

It is exceptionally rare when a college football team hits a must win in October. And though Halloween month is almost over, and Kentucky sits at 4-3, this game looms large if the Cats are to go Bowling for their 4th consecutive year. Assuming the Eastern Kentucky game on November 7th is a win, the Cats will need one more victory in their remaining 4 games, all SEC contests, to get to that magical Bowl eligible 6 wins. It sure would be nice if we could just go ahead and knock that out now against MSU, allowing the games at Georgia, at Vandy, and against Tennessee to simply be icing on an already baked Bowl cake.

Mississippi State is in much the same boat as UK. The Bulldogs now sit at 3-5, with games ahead of them against Alabama, at Arkansas, and against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. A loss to Kentucky on Saturday means the Bulldogs have to win out… a very large improbability. So as large as this looms for Kentucky it is infinitely larger for Mississippi State, and a true “Must Win” for Dan Mullen to lead the Bulldogs to a Bowl in his first season at the helm.

For Mississippi State, they are a rush-centric team, led primarily by senior tailback Anthony Dixon, the SEC’s 3rd leading rusher this season. Dixon has helped the Bulldogs to a 4th place ranking in rush offense, at a shade under 200 yards per game on the ground. Their 10th in the SEC when it comes to passing and MSU clocks in overall at 8th in the conference for total offense.

Kentucky is similar in terms of their statistical rankings, with the differences negligible between each of the offensive strategies. Each of the major categories in terms of rushing, passing, scoring, and total offense finds Kentucky and MSU neck and neck. The key to the Kentucky offense is Randall Cobb, whose talent, skill, and speed are well utilized in an offense struggling to overcome injuries and find an identity of sorts.
Advantage: Push. Statistically there is virtually no difference between the teams and the star power of Cobb and Dixon cancel each other out.

Defensively, MSU is quite better than their record would indicate. They are 9th in the SEC in total defense (passing: 10th, rushing: 7th) and have had decent outings and moments of greatness in shutting down or at least significantly impeding major offenses like Florida, LSU, or Georgia Tech. They don’t maintain their intensity all game, and opportunities do exist to take advantage, but Kentucky will need to choose their spots wisely. Hindering the ability of the opposition to find those big plays are two freshman defensive backs in Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield who have a combined 7 INTs and 3 TDs. Up front, junior DL Pernell McPhee is 5th in the conference for sacks with 4.0 this season.

For the Cats, they have struggled against the rush this season, so much so that they are last in the SEC in rushing defense, giving up nearly 175 per game. Complicating matters for the Cats are the injuries throughout the defense, like Micah Johnson and Trevard Lindley. Johnson will most likely play but won’t be 100% with a high ankle sprain, and against a showstopper like Dixon, the front unit of Kentucky needs to dominate the line of scrimmage… a tall order.
Advantage: Mississippi_StInjuries make this a small advantage for MSU, in addition to the fact the MSU’s offense is strongest where Kentucky’s defense is weakest.

Dan Mullen is in his first season as a head coach, after a successful career at Florida. Offensively, Mullen has worked with the likes of Chris Leak, Alex Smith, and Tim Tebow, and given the opportunity to recruit to MSU over several years, most expect him to be successful. For Kentucky’s Rich Brooks, you’d be hard pressed to find Kentucky football fans who are not remarkably impressed with the successes and achievements that Brooks has been able to accomplish while at UK. Three straight Bowl wins, recruiting classes that get better and better, and winning the right way all make Brooks a great coach.
AdvantageKentuckyHelmet In several years it may be a different story, but for now Brooks has the experience, the results, and the edge.

Random Page 4 Google Image Result for Mississippi State:
Camouflage on the shoulders? Interesting.

Random Page 4 Google Image Result for Kentucky:

Advantage: KentuckyHelmetWhen it comes to chicks in jerseys, Kentucky has the market cornered. By far.

For both these programs, this game is one of the remaining chances to get a win. It is one of the last times this season that both teams will line up against a conference opponent with similar talent, depth, and skill. For MSU and Dan Mullen, they must rely on their defense to disrupt a Wildcat offense that at times this season has ranged from stagnant to mediocre. For the Wildcats, they must try and contain the Mississippi State rushing attack while limiting mistakes. The difference, in my mind, may very well come down to a home field advantage in the snake pit known as Commonwealth Stadium. A hyped crowd, a black out, and a team in search of historical and unprecedented success will carry the Cats to win #5 and their 2nd SEC victory this season.

Mississippi State 24
Kentucky 35


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