Another day, another game against an undefeated, top 25 ranked SEC school. Let’s break it down with five keys.
Win the takeaway battle
I hate to sound like a broken record, but let’s be honest, when you go into a game as a decisive underdog with two freshmen quarterbacks it is pretty important to win the turnover battle. Add in the fact that Missippi State leads in the nation in turnover margin at +15 and that they are 20-1 in their last 21 games when they win the turnover battle and just 4-8 in their last 12 when they lose it, and it becomes the key factor in the game.
The freshmen quarterbacks must avoid mistakes and MSU’s ball-hawking defense will do everything in their power to force mistakes. They have nine picks on the year and one of the best corners in the country in Johnthan Banks, so it won’t be easy. On the other side, UK must find a way to get takeaways.
Contain the ground game
What does Mississippi State want to do? They want to control the game on the ground. Kentucky has always struggled containing the Bulldogs’ ground attack. And don’t expect Dan Mullens to do the Wildcats any favors like Steve Spurrier did a week ago. There is absolutely no way that starting tailback LaDarius Perkins will go into the half with just five carries. Not going to happen.
They have gained 200 or more yards on the ground in each of their last three games and will look to continue that streak on Saturday.
Maintain the intensity on defense
One thing that has really stuck out to me the last two weeks is UK’s defensive intensity to start the game. They have to find a way to maintain that intensity for 60 minutes.
Avoid the slow start and maintain it
The first part is obvious and something Kentucky did a good job of last week in jumping out to a 17-7 haltime lead. They still failed to score their first offensive touchdown in the first quarter since 2010, but they did score their first first quarter points of the season with a Craig McIntosh field goal.
Still, jumping off to a good start is just half of the story. Just as the Cats must maintain their intensity on defense, they have to maintain their solid start if they get one. But, you would much rather be up on a Mississippi State team that likes to control the game with their ground attack. If you get behind, they will ground you to death and kill the clock.
Get production from the freshman quarterbacks
After last week, Kentucky fans are excited about the future of Jalen Whitlow. Since Patrick Towles came on campus, they have been excited about his future. Now. they get an opportunity to see both.
As we saw last week, there is good and bad with playing a highly touted freshman. You are going to get impressive play followed by rookie mistakes. Both quarterbacks are going to play, but it is my hope that the coaching staff rides the hot hand instead of going back and forth. If they start moving the football with Whitlow, keep him in. If they do it with Towles, the same thing. Protecting the quarterback becomes even more important with rookie quarterbacks because of the speed of the game. When the pocket begins to collapse, inexperienced quarterbacks tend to rush throws or do it with their feet instead of remaining calm and getting rid of the football.
But, for UK to have a chance they have to get solid play from their rookies. If they don’t, it could be a long day.
Perspect this for a second. Last year Kentucky couldn’t move the football at all and no one had an idea who their quarterback of the future is. Now, if Whitlow performs as he did last week and Towles impresses as many believe he will, UK goes into spring with three potential starters at quarterback. Talk about a QB competition.
Filed Under: Football
About the Author: