Dan Mullen says not to believe the stats.
He doesn’t believe Kentucky’s rushing defense, which ranks last in the SEC at 174.1 yards per game, is really that bad.
“They’ve given up a couple of big games – they gave up a bunch of yards to Florida, a bunch of yards to Auburn, they gave up some yards to Alabama. But the other games they’ve really kind of shut people down a little bit,” said Mullen, whose Bulldogs visit Lexington on Saturday. “Their body of work has been pretty good. And they’re always a very, very sound, very physical defense.”
True, against Alabama, Auburn and Florida, the Wildcats (4-3, 1-3 SEC) gave up a combined 786 rushing yards – 262 per game – including 362 to Florida.
In its other four games – against Miami (Ohio), Louisville, South Carolina and Louisiana-Monroe – Kentucky’s yielded 108.3 yards per game.
So, good teams generally run well against Kentucky. MSU (3-5, 1-3) ranks 18th in the country and fourth in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 203.1 yards per game.
Senior tailback Anthony Dixon has run for 749 yards. He was held to 53 yards in last week’s 29-19 loss to No. 1 Florida, which has the SEC’s second-best run defense.
MSU offensive line coach and running game coordinator John Hevesy said the rushing troubles started up front.
“It’s nothing different that we did up front, it’s just we had about probably eight blown assignments,” he said. “Not that they’re major deals, but they were just little things that cost us a large number of run yards.”
Dixon could be set up for a big day on Saturday. Kentucky’s defense could be without star linebacker Micah Johnson, who suffered an MCL strain in last week’s win against Louisiana-Monroe. He’s averaging 7.9 tackles per game, tied for eighth in the SEC.
“If we don’t have him, it’ll make the job of stopping Dixon even more difficult,” Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said, “and it’s going to be difficult if we had a full complement of our defensive guys, because he’s an outstanding player.”
Kentucky’s best defense against MSU might be a good offense. The Wildcats haven’t been outstanding on that side of the ball – they average 23.0 points and 337.3 yards per game – but they have a couple of dangerous weapons in tailback Derrick Locke and receiver Randall Cobb, who will line up in the Wildcat formation and has quarterback experience.
Cobb, who also returns punts and kickoffs, averages 132.7 all-purpose yards per game, fifth in the SEC.
He and Locke will need to come up big Saturday, because starting quarterback Mike Hartline is still out after hurting his knee against South Carolina on Oct. 10.
Junior Will Fidler and true freshman Morgan Newton have been splitting snaps since then, and they’re a combined 20 for 41 for 174 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions the last two games.
“It’s not going as well as I’d like, obviously, or we’d be throwing the ball better,” Brooks said of his QB rotation. “Certainly with Newton and Fidler changing off, we’ve been able to get two wins, and with the addition of Randall Cobb in the mix a little bit with the Wildcat package, we’ve been able to generate just enough offense to get it done, and hopefully that will continue.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal