By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
MSU’s offense did several things Saturday it hadn’t been doing much of recently. It hit big pass plays, excelled in the red zone and was consistently productive on first and second downs. Using two quarterbacks, Tyler Russell and Chris Relf, the Bulldogs found a rhythm.
Vick Ballard got back on track, too, rushing for 90 yards. Defensively, MSU made some holds despite being put in tough situations by the offense.
MSU committed three turnovers and gained none, not normally a recipe for success. The impotence of Kentucky’s offense plus the push MSU was getting up front bailed out the Bulldog offense.
State didn’t finish the game as strongly as coach Dan Mullen would’ve liked, as Kentucky gained 180 yards in the second half and scored a touchdown with 13 minutes, 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Keys For victory
Evaluating the keys to victory in Saturday’s GameDay section:
1. Make ‘em throw. Kentucky threw it, all right: 38 times, completing 29 for 189 yards. After starting quarterback Morgan Newton left with an ankle injury, Maxwell Smith was 26 of 33 for 174 yards. Receiver Matt Roark had 116 yards on 13 receptions.
MSU avoided giving up the big play, however, as UK averaged 6.5 yards per completion.
2. Get Ballard on track. The senior tailback ran hard, gaining 90 yards on 17 carries with a long run of 21 yards. It was his second-highest rushing total in SEC play this season. Ballard paced a 134-yard MSU rushing effort on a night when the offense was making it a point to pass.
3. Finish drives. State had scored only one offensive TD its three previous SEC games, thanks in large part to red-zone difficulties. MSU got inside Kentucky’s 20-yard line five times and reached the end zone on four of them. Behind Relf, MSU ran the ball well in the red zone, and the only mishap was an interception thrown by Relf at the Kentucky 2.
Fletcher Cox. The junior defensive tackle set the tone for MSU’s attacking defense, recording seven tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.0 sacks. State got good pressure on Kentucky’s quarterbacks all night.
Now that it has its first SEC win out of the way, MSU can focus more attention on getting bowl eligible. It needs to win two of the last four games, and while that’s very doable, the Bulldogs still have plenty to work on, but also plenty off which to build.