By BRAD LOCKE / NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Kentucky’s potentially explosive offense shorted out Saturday night.
That had a lot to do with Mississippi State’s defense, which is quickly establishing itself as a disruptive unit. Just look at UK quarterback Mike Hartline.
Entering Saturday’s game, the senior had completed more than two-thirds of his passes and thrown only four interceptions. The Bulldogs picked him off three times, including Johnthan Banks’ fourth-down interception to preserve the 24-17 win.
Hartline finished 23 of 41 for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
“To me, the credit for that goes to our front,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “There were two keys to this game in their passing game: If we could cover the short route, the quick-cutting route, and then our pressure would force him into making bad throws. I really believe that’s what happened.”
MSU recorded four sacks and harassed Hartline often, with an additional seven QB hurries. That threw him off his rhythm, and that aided the pass defense.
“We watched film, and we saw we had a lot of opportunities. A lot of times (defenders) dropped balls, or they’re not breaking on the ball,” said cornerback Corey Broomfield. “And tonight we were able to be in the right position.”
Linebacker Chris White and safety Nickoe Whitley also had picks of Hartline.
The “head of the snake,” though, was receiver Randall Cobb. That’s what Diaz called him earlier this week.
Cobb had big numbers: 12 catches, 171 yards, with 101 of those yards coming in the first half. He’s about all Kentucky had in the receiving game, and he only found the end zone once. Cobb lined up in the wildcat a few times but rushed for only 11 yards.
Broomfield guarded him often.
“He’s always in different places, so you’ve got to find out where he’s at first, then once you get there you’ve got to get the call,” Broomfield said. “You’ve got to know your leverage and know all your other stuff.”
Kentucky was without star tailback Derrick Locke, who missed his third straight game with a shoulder stinger. The Wildcats rushed for 89 yards and averaged 2.1 yards per carry.
They finished with 347 total yards, nearly 80 yards below their average. Kentucky ran 85 offensive plays to MSU’s 58, but the Bulldogs were able to stay pretty fresh with a heavy rotation of players.
“This is what we’re working for all season,” White said. “It don’t matter if we play 100 snaps, we’ve still got to go hard.”