Peeps, that was a tough game. UK is a much improved team from a year ago. Mark Stoops is one heckuva coach, especially defensively. And for whatever reason, we always seem to get their best game. Maybe it's the permanent cross-division opponent aspect. But what I do know is we took care of business and left Lexington with a W. Here's what I saw:
1. Let's just get it out of the way: Our D was not up to its usual standard yesterday. To me, we were more inconsistent than outright bad. We'd have a series or two where we'd play really well and look completely dominant. Then we'd have a series where we'd make basic mistakes. But in the end, those guys got just enough stops to get us the W.
2. We had our worst tackling day of the year. I can chalk some of it up to lack of sharpness following the Bye. But some of it was just bad effort or bad technique. Case in point: On UK's first TD, Tolando Cleveland goes for the strip along the sideline instead of wrapping up and driving the WR out of bounds. He whiffs and the WR is off to the races.
3. Our 1B LBs and DBs had a bad day. Deontay Evans, Kivon Coman, and Zach Jackson in particular got abused in pass coverage.
4. What disappointed me most defensively was how unprepared we looked. Coming off a 3-game stretch of defensive dominance, we looked like we hadn't watched any film on UK. We were totally unprepared for Towles's running ability. He finished the day with 23 carries for 76 yards. And what was worse, we never made any adjustments. By the second quarter I was saying we need to be spying him. Just a really bad gameplan and coaching in general by Geoff Collins.
5. The good news is our D-Line continued to show out. The finished the day with 6 sacks and held Kentucky RBs to just 27 yards rushing. Kentucky finished with just 103 total yards rushing on the day, when you include Towles's rushing yards. UK only averaged 3.2 YPC for the day. That's absolutely shutting down a run game, folks.
6. I saw Will Redmond make a tremendous play late to bat away a potential TD catch.
7. Taveze Calhoun made a really nice effort play at one point. He got blocked and fell down, but managed to dive and tackle the UK ball carrier. The play was for virtually no gain.
8. Honestly, I'm struggling to come up with a whole lot of defensive positives yesterday. No way to sugarcoat giving up 31 points, many on big passing plays. And we compounded it with terrible tackling. Frankly, this is the worst I've felt about our D since UAB. The thought of Amari Cooper scares me to death right now.
1. This group continues to be inconsistent. Made FG, missed FG, muffed punt, onside kick recovery and return for a TD.
2. Love watching Logan Cooke. The kid has an elite leg, continuing the tradition of great MSU punters.
3. Jamoral Graham needs to get it together, quickly. He's muffed a punt 3 or 4 games in a row now. That has GOT to stop. It's almost like he's regressed since his first game as the primary PR guy.
4. Shoutout to Christian Holmes. Turtle seals the game with the return of the onside kick for a TD. Nice scoop, then he rumbles 61 yards, showcasing a nasty stiff arm on the run.
Sobiesk continues to be a head case. He nails his first FG attempt perfectly. His second attempt was about as bad as I've ever seen. Awful doesn't even begin to describe that particular kick. Saying it never had a chance to be good is an insult to kicks that never had a chance to be good. I'm fairly certain I'd have a heart attack if we ever have an accurate FG again. You know it's bad when I'd kill to have a DePasquale back. [Editor's Correction: Cooke actually kicked the the second field goal.]
1. Dak finished with decent numbers: 216 passing, 88 rushing, 1 pass TD, 2 rush TD, 1 INT. The bigger concern is the severity of his injury. It seemed to be more of a "ding" than anything serious, but I'm guessing it's something that will linger and need rest. (Update: Apparently Dak was in a walking boot after the game but described it as "precautionary." Basically, a regular week for Dak and most SEC QBs.) Personally, I was disappointed in his decision making yesterday. There were numerous times he chose to force a deep pass instead of checking down to an open player on an underneath route. And he's become too fixated on the back shoulder throw.
2. Run the "Darn" Football Update: We ran 84 total offensive plays. We rushed the ball 51 times and threw it 33 times. That's a 60/40 run/pass ratio. Not nearly close enough to the 65%+ I was hoping to see today. Frankly, I was more upset with this than I was with our defense. UK was giving up 4.2 YPC on the season. RUN THE DARN FOOTBALL!!!
3. J-Beast gonna J-Beast. The stats yesterday are insane: 19 carries, 198 yards, 8.6 YPC, 2 TDs. He also added 1 catch for 11 yards. And that doesn't even tell the story sufficiently. There was one point in the game where he got the ball 3 times in a row and ran for 10+ yards each carry. He broke tackles and refused to go down. He showed tremendous vision. But most of all, he saved his biggest runs for when we needed them most. Look no further than the 73 yard run to stretch the game out to 38-24. Speaking of that run, J-Beast's cutback on that run was a thing of beauty. And he finally showed the breakaway speed I've been telling you he has. Enjoy the next 8 games, peeps. I have a strong suspicion we won't bee seeing J-Beast wearing maroon and white next season.
4. Gabe Myles continues to stand out. He's filled the Tubby Lewis role remarkably well. I don't know if Tubby decided he couldn't go or what, but it certainly appeared as if Miles took his snaps. My favorite Myles play was the WR Sweep Pass that was covered, so he cut it up and rushed it for about 8 yards. Took what should have probably been a busted play for negative yards and turned it into a positive play that gave us a short yardage situation.
5. Offense continues to be a machine in general. They put up another 38 yesterday, and I really felt like it was maybe our most "herky jerky" offensive performance of the season, as Dan Mullen would say. But they continued to answer every UK score with a score of their own, not letting them get the lead below 7. And we broke the 500 Total Offensive Yards mark again. Hard to find much to criticize offensively.
6. O-Line was very good run blocking. We wound up rushing for 326 total yards and averaged 6.4 YPC as a team. That's unreal. I thought the pass blocking was a little suspect at times, but some of that had to do with UK. We knew going in they had a very good front 4 and those guys brought it yesterday. Bud Dupre showed why he's one of the elite players in the SEC. And Za'Darius Smith showed why we fought the Cats tooth and nail for his signature out of JUCO. Can you imagine that guy on the end of our D-Line opposite Preston Smith? Dak ran into a couple of sacks, too.
7. WRs were very average as a unit yesterday. Saw a whole lot of drops, which we haven't been doing. Bear Wilson in particular had a bad day. Fred Ross led the team in catches with 5 for 51. Good day for him. That said, this unit blocked their tails off in the run game all day. You don't run for 326 yards without your WRs doing a big time job run blocking. Major props to them for working hard and doing the little things right when they could have sulked.
8. Robert Johnson was our most productive WR. Just 2 catches, but they went for 44 yards, an average of 22 per catch.
1. I'm pretty aggravated with Mullen. Through 3 quarters yesterday, we'd thrown the ball TWENTY-SIX times. That's insane. J-Beast, Dak, and the backups were running wild. We'd start running it down their throats, then pass if 5 times in a row. Just a very, very poorly called game by Dan. There's no reason for us to throw the ball more than 25 times for an ENTIRE game, unless we're behind and playing catch-up. Stop getting cute and trying to prove what an offensive genius you are. RUN. THE. "DARN." FOOTBALL.
2. As I said in the Defense section, I'm outright angry and disappointed with Collins. We looked unprepared and never adjusted. Just like the UAB game. There is NO excuse for that. I love Collins, but the one area where he still has a lot of work to do is making in-game adjustments.
3. We were flat yesterday. I'm not saying that as an excuse, merely stating fact. It sucks, but if you were expecting us to steamroll everyone all season, you weren't using your brain. We've been due for a game where we were flat. I'm not happy it happened on the road, but at the same time, I'm pleased it happened this week against a UK team that is still outmanned. I'd have been very upset had it happened next week against Arkansas or in Tuscaloosa or in Oxford. In hindsight, we probably should have expected to be a little flat, even with the Bye week. The last 3 games were incredibly emotional affairs and very exhausting in that regard. It's almost impossible to sustain that level of emotion across 12 games.
4. Despite being flat, we still never trailed yesterday. Once we got up 10 in the 2nd quarter, UK never got any closer than seven. We battled our tails off and won on a day when we just didn't have "it." That's a good thing. Hopefully that's out of the system now and can come out ready to go against Arkansas.
5. Overall, I was pleased with our level of mental fortitude. It was a typical MSU-UK game that went right to the wire. We took their best shot and survived.
6. Patrick Towles is a special QB. He's not what I'd call a true dual threat, but he's definitely mobile. And he seems to have that special "it" the really good QBs have. He's going to give us fits the next 2-3 years and probably go on to a nice NFL career.
7. It'll be good to come back home for Arkansas. First ever home game at DWS as the #1 team in the nation. We need everyone to show up, be loud, be rowdy, but Respect The Bell. Look forward to seeing my 62,000+ closest friends Saturday night.
That's how I saw it. Fire in the hole!
In Mullen We Trust,