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WMD's Armchair QB: Natural Enemies Edition

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Dawgs Tame Wildcats. What We Learned.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Peeps, we all know dogs and cats are natural enemies. And in this fight, the Dawgs won handily. I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting a blowout. UK is one of those teams that always seems to play us close for no apparent reason, even when they shouldn't. I suspect it has something to do with us playing each other every year and them viewing us as a rival. It was nice to see us come out and handle business. So what did we learn over the course of the rout? Here's what I saw:

Defense:

1. I repeat: Manny Diaz might be one of the best coaches at in-game adjustments I've ever seen. I just wish he could bother to get the defense to show up before the second quarter. This constant falling behind garbage can't keep happening if we want to finish out the way this team is capable.

2. After UK got up 7-0, the D locked in and played extremely well. UK was limited to 3 FGs the rest of the way. And one of those was because Dan got cute right before the half, calling for a squib kick to kill some clock, and resulting in UK with the ball near midfield. They were absolutely gifted 3 points there. Enjoy them, Cats, because it should've been worse. Boom Williams ran amok in the first quarter, wracking up 80 rush yards. He finished the night with 114 rushing yards, being held to just 34 the other 3 quarters combined. And for all the hype about UKs speed at the skill positions, our D was right with them all night. In fact, I thought UK looked a little slow.

3. I'm finally ready to say it: This D is GOOD. They drive me nuts with the yards and 3rd conversions, but they're keeping teams off the board. And ultimately, that's all that really matters. Once they settle in, they're a hard group to handle. What really jumps out to me is the number of TFLs we get every week. State had double digit TFLs Saturday night. Best example: After giving up the 80 rush yards to UK in the first quarter, they held UK to -4 rush yards in the second quarter. UK had just 76 rush yards at the half. That's dominance, people.

4. Welcome back, turnovers! We've missed you. Dawgs got 3, should've been 4, INTs. Had a couple of chances to create a fumble, but we didn't get the ball ripped out. The TOs, or more specifically the lack thereof, have been the biggest concern to me about the D this season. Manny Diaz defenses are supposed to thrive on creating TOs and we've been very bad in that category, prior to Saturday. Seeing us force so many and be in position for more is reassuring and is what led me to #3.

5. Oh, Taveze Calhoun. I think I speak for State fans everywhere when I say my heart was in my throat when I saw you laying on the turf, grabbing at your knee, and then being walked off putting no pressure on it. Losing Will Redmond hurts bad, but losing Calhoun would've been catastrophic and more than the D could've handled. Then he comes back just a few plays later and has his best game of the season. The two INTs were spectacular plays. He makes a fantastic, diving one handed grab that carries him into the endzone to prevent a UK score before halftime. Then he actually tops it by tipping the ball to himself later in the game.

6. Nick James is a monster. He's never going to light up a stat sheet. You've just got to watch to appreciate what he does. The guy just clogs up everything in the middle of the field and gives it everything he has. I remember one play, I believe it was in the second quarter. It might have been the play where we got our lone sack of the night, but don't hold me to that. Nick took three guys and absolutely blew them up, driving them 5 yards into the backfield. He just completely wrecked the play. It was as impressive a display of dominance as I've seen, but it isn't something you'll find on a stat sheet. I guarantee he'll be getting some serious credit when the team watches game film, though.

7. Kivon Coman has become a good player for us after having a rough start to the season. He's not flashy, and you generally don't notice him, but that is not a bad thing at Safety. But early in the game, he made a couple of crucial tackles to prevent scores.

8. With Will Redmond down, Tolando Cleveland and Smokey Graham stepped up big time. Cleveland was particularly good. Those guys deserve major credit for being ready when their numbers were called.

9. Brandon Bryant is our best safety, and he's only going to get better. He didn't get a pick last night, but he was always around the football making plays. I'm going to predict he'll be an All-SEC player before he leaves.

10. Mark McLaurin and Jamaal Peters played a lot Saturday night. I noticed Peters in at CB a couple of times, covering the slot. McLaurin really stood out, making a couple of big plays, including a PBU to prevent what would've been a big gain for UK. I still think both of those guys will play larger roles as the season goes along.

11. Beni Brown is is really freaking good. I wish his INT had stood, because it was a thing of beauty. He read the play the whole way then broke on the ball for the pick 6. It sucks the D didn't get the points.

12. Tackling is much improved from early in the season. We still miss a few, but that's going to happen. Overall, it isn't nearly the problem it was the first several game. It's one of the major reasons we're keeping teams off the board.

13. It didn't show up in the sack column, but Patrick Towles was under duress all night. State had 5 QBH to go with 1 sack. Multiple QB hits. You could really see Towles get happy feet and start rushing as the game went along. I kinda feel bad for the guy. He's a good QB, but his OL isn't able to protect him.

14. Can't mention the D without talking about Cory Thomas. He should be the first DT off the bench with Nelson Adams. Torrey Dale has improved, but Thomas just makes plays. His INT on the screen was great. He knifed upfield, but realized it was a little too easy. So he drops into coverage, finds the RB, and grabbed the ball. Great recognition. And then he showed some wheels for a big guy on the return.

Special Teams:

1. Overall, another solid night for this group. A couple of miscues, but nothing huge. This is the most improved area of the team from last season.

2. Westin Graves. You knew it had to happen eventually. And Saturday night it finally did. Graves came into the game perfect on the season, having made every attempt - PAT and FG. He missed his first FG of the season. And it was a chip shot. No one is going to make them all, but he had a really good run going. He nailed all his PAT attempts, though. Hopefully he can start a new streak of made FGs at Mizzou in a couple of weeks.

3. Logan Cooke had another great night punting. His average wasn't great, at just 37.3 YPP. But that doesn't really tell the whole story. He only punted 3 times and pinned UK inside the 20 twice. One of those was a 30 yard punt downed inside the 15, at that's the one that killed his average. He bombed one 50 yards early when we were deep on our own end, totally flipping the field. He's a real weapon for us.

4. Devon Bell continues to be really good on KO. Nice to see us finally eliminating returns. He had 6 kicks and 3 were touchbacks. Of those 3, one was the squib mentioned above. The other 2 had good hang time and resulted in UK starting inside the 20 on both.

5. KO coverage unit was outstanding. I don't remember UK starting on a short field all night. The times UK was able to get a return, the guys got down and swarmed to the football.

6. Nothing stood out for our return units. Fred Ross did a good job fielding punts and preventing the loss of yards from a roll. Brandon Holloway and Malik Dear didn't have many chances to make a return and were forced into touchbacks on 3 of UK's 5 KOs. Gotta credit UK's punter and kicker, they did a good job.

Offense:

1. Offense continues to start slow. I really hated the first possession. Three straight passes. Quick three and out. I actually did like the slip screen call to Holloway on third down, but as usual, the least amount of contact tripped him up. If he keeps his feet, it's a HUGE gain.

2. Overall, I thought we had our best offensive performance of the season. We were aggressive and creative. We got the young guys involved in the run game early. We spread the ball around well. And most importantly, we finally scored more than 20 points in an SEC game this season.

3. The OL had a really good night. They were blowing open holes in the run game and gave Dak ALL DAY in pass pro. State had 586 yards of total offense, 382 passing and 204 rushing. That doesn't happen if your OL isn't doing its job. The only real failure I saw was not getting much push on the 4th down attempt deep in UK territory. Gotta fix that. But still, this was the most physical they've been as a unit all season. I still want to see Elgton Jenkins and Dion Calhoun get their reps increased. They're ready to be big contributors and are more physical than the guys ahead of them.

Don't know what got into Devon Desper during the last week, but I like it. We ran behind him a bunch. He was having a terrible year prior to Saturday night. But he stepped up and played the best game he's had since Texas A&M last season.

Lots of reasons to be positive about this unit. You can really see the progress as they start to gel. If they get a little more physical, we're going to be extremely tough to stop offensively in these last 4 games. The bye week may do them more good than any single unit on the team.

4. WRs had a great night. 10 different guys caught a ball. Only saw one real drop all night.

5. RBs had a good night as a whole. Holloway, Dear, Aeris Williams, and Dontavian Lee combined to rush it 22 times for 83 yards. Not great, but not bad. And honestly, it should have been more, but more on that in a second. UK has a big 6'7", 360 pound NT that really clogged up the middle. That's why we struggled a little bit in short yardage situations. Dude just sits down and is hard to move without a double team, even for a guy as strong as Clayborne.

6. Holloway had one of his best nights running the football. He got 6 touches and had 36 yards. He was able to find holes and squirt through for gains. He broke a long run for 18. But his biggest contribution was actually as a receiver. He led the team with 5 catches, 98 yards, and a TD. We're finally figuring out how to use him effectively. If only a gust of wind didn't knock him down. And don't get me started on his pass "blocking." I just wish he were 2 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier, because he'd be a beast.

Aeris Williams led the RBs with 8 carries. He got 27 yards and had just 3.8 YPC. But that's not bad, considering UK's big nose guard clogging things up. The one play that really stood out to me, though, was on his first drive. I can't remember if it was his first or second carry, but he took the ball and follows his blockers to the left. A HUGE hole opened up back to his right and he never saw it. He kept going left and got maybe 3 yards on the run. If he sees the hole and cuts back, it's easily a 15 yard gain, maybe more. You could've driven a Mack truck through it. I was disappointed he didn't pick up that 4th down deep in UK territory, too. But I thought we got hosed on the spot and the replay, so it's a wash. He also added one catch for 9 yards. It was a solid night for him. He'll get better.

Dontavian Lee had a tough night. He wound up with 5 carries for 7 yards. Got caught in the run blitz a few times. I wish he'd been in the game on that failed 4th down attempt. With Shump out, he's our best power back. If you aren't going to use Dak in that situation, the ball has to go to Lee, in my opinion.

7. Good things happen when Malik Dear touches the ball. He had 3 carries for 12 yards and 1 catch for 9 yards. Disappointed we didn't get the ball to him more, but that's nitpicking on a night when we scored 42 and had nearly 600 yards of offense in an SEC game.

8. I loved the reverse option pass play call. Fred Ross made a really nice throw and Bear Wilson made an even better catch. Well executed all the way around and it used UK's aggressiveness against them.

9. Speaking of Bear, he had a good night. But as usual, we didn't get him the ball enough. He had just 4 catches, but gained 91 yards with a TD. I continue to say, any game where he touches it fewer than 5 times is a game we wasted, even in a blowout. He also had a crucial drop. But he had the big grab in #8 above. And his TD was classic Bear, using his size and strength to score. He missed a block on 3rd down that would've sprung Ross for a TD leading to Graves missing his lone FG attempt. But what I loved seeing was how mad Bear was at himself for missing the block. Most WRs view blocking as a necessary evil and do the bare minimum required when they don't get the ball, but not Bear. He wants to be great and prides himself on his blocking ability. That's going to earn him serious money in the not too distant future. He loves getting physical and springing other guys loose for big plays. It's a rare trait for a WR.

10. Nice to see us get Donald Gray involved in an SEC game. He tied Holloway for the team lead in catches with 5. He gained 56 yards and was a mismatch in the slot. You could really see his quickness. Hopefully we keep him involved moving forwards.

11. TEs had a really good night. Darrion Hutcherson has finally adjusted and is a real weapon for us. He's a mismatch at 6'7", 260. He's a really good blocker and a good receiver. Love the way he shielded off the DB with his body for his TD grab. Justin Johnson also saw some solid PT and got his first catch in weeks (unless I'm forgetting one from last week). I actually LOVED the call on that catch. It was what I've come to call a "Dak and Short" situation. 4th down and 3 or less. Everyone in the house and watching on TV knows Dak is getting the ball, right? Especially since he's just carried on a "Dak and short" 3rd and 4 or less. Well, wrong. Dak runs the QB play action, then swings it out to JJ for a wide open, easy conversion. Big time call and perfectly executed.

12. Dak had quite possibly his best night in a MSU uniform. He was on fire all night. His final stats were 25/35, 348, 3 TD, 1 INT, 13 carries, 117 yards, 3 TD. He was responsible for 465 yards of total offense and al 6 TDs. Dak finally threw his first INT of the season. I'm actually ok with it. He made the right read with Fred Brown streaking down the sideline. He had a step or two on the CB, so Dak decided to take a shot. Unfortunately, he hung it up a little too much, making Brown wait on the ball and giving the CB time to recover. Then the CB just jumped up and made a nice grab. Dak needed to throw it a little flatter and lead Brown. If he does, it's probably a TD. But hey, Dak made the right read and took the shot, so no complaints. He's been so good this season.

The rest of his night was the Dak we thought we'd see all season. He did a great job of mixing up taking deep shots and checking down for consistent gains. And he had a couple of really nice scrambles for big gains and TDs. Then you had the traditional Dak draw and Dak power runs for nice gains. He had the type of night that should put him back into the Heisman discussion and make him SEC Offensive Player of the Week. If he isn't POTW, they just need to get rid of the award.

I only remember one bad play from him all night, other than putting too much air under the ball to Brown. It was a 2nd or 3rd down later in the game. I don't remember exactly when. Dak rolled to his right, trying to buy himself a little extra time to find an open player. To UK's credit, they had great coverage on the play. Dak finally has to get rid of the ball. Instead of just throwing it safely out of bounds, he tried to force it back into the middle of the field. UK had a guy get a hand on it. Honestly, he was lucky it wasn't picked. Just throw it away. But like I said, that was the only bad decision he made all night. On a night when we ran 72 offensive plays, just one bad decision is fantastic, so far as I'm concerned.

Coaching/Miscellaneous:

1. Mullen came out and coached to win. Other than the first offensive possession, the offense was aggressive and effective all night. There was more creativity than we've seen in weeks. I already mentioned the gadget play with Ross passing to Bear. Then the "Dak action" pass to Johnson on the 4th down conversion. We also saw the reemergence of the deep ball with Dak in the game. Looks like the staff went back and watched some film during the week and realized opposing safeties have been creeping up into the box and squatting on the underneath routes. They responded by having Dak go deep, forcing the safeties to stay back or get burned.

I also really enjoyed the sequence of plays where we threw to Gray something like 3 or 4 times in a row. Obviously there was a matchup the coaches saw on tape that they liked and exploited it. And they did it early in the game, giving us crucial momentum.

2. I thought we lost a little intensity coming out of halftime. If we score to open the half, the game is completely over with the way we ended the first half. Instead, we let UK hang around. Gotta keep our foot on the gas and develop a little more killer instinct.

3. Loved the way Diaz compensated for the loss of Redmond. I won't rehash the personnel moves. What I did notice was increased pressure and our DL getting upfield more than previous weeks. Love to see that. Basically, we decided that we want the QB to get rid of the ball more quickly so Cleveland/Graham don't have to cover as long. Plus our DL is capable of wreaking serious havoc, so turning them loose to penetrate more plays to their strength.

4. Allow me a fashionista moment: I thought the all black uniforms and matte helmets were awesome. Obviously not something I'd want every week, but once a year - absolutely.

5. I know we won, but I thought the officials sucked. Especially whoever was in the replay booth. We were 1-4 on replays. I have no clue how you give UK a TD on the first one. You couldn't see where the ball was and the call on the field was he was down short. There was nothing that was "indisputable video evidence" to overturn the call. Would UK have scored anyway? Probably. But that's not the point. You can't guess about "what's right." There's a standard of proof needed to change a call on the field. If they had initially ruled TD and changed it, I'd say the same thing. I didn't see anything to convince me the call on the field shouldn't have stood either way.

Same thing applies on Morrow's catch that was overturned. It was close, but there wasn't a definitive angle showing the ball hit the ground. Call on the field was complete. Since there was no angle showing otherwise - call has to stand.

I do think we got hosed on the Williams 4th down review. I thought we got an awful spot. Ironically that was the one time all night they probably got it "right" in terms of applying the rules for review. Not enough evidence to overturn it either way.

And don't even get me started on the ridiculous "facemask" call or some of the other penalties called. It's football, not ballet. And how in the blue hell was the UK player not ejected for punching Richie? It may have been an open hand, but it was still a punch. That's automatic ejection. Mullen was furious, and I don't blame him.  Why can't we ever get a little home cooking at home? It's really ridiculous and we weren't even playing one of the conference elites. At least then you expect to get hosed.

6. Gotta give props to our crowd. There was way more black than I anticipated. You really jumped in and participated. The maroon shirts really weren't even that noticeable. But if you wore white - WHY?! It was extremely noticeable. Pull the rope together, people. It's one game. Get over yourself and be part of something instead of being selfish because "we wear maroon and white" or whatever excuse you make. Believe me, recruits notice when a fan base is united and invested. Still, great atmosphere to be part of. And we're really good with the new cowbell rules. I think it's one of the most unique and intimidating atmospheres in college football to hear the crowd go almost quiet for a second then explode yelling and just as quickly transition back to cowbells. It must be absolute hell for opposing offenses.

WMD's Thoughts:

By far the most complete game we've played this season. A couple of miscues like the missed FG and Dak's INT, but nothing I'd call major by any stretch of the imagination. It's all easily correctable. I don't remember us having any pre-snap penalties, which is a plus. OL is coming along really well. Just need the young RBs to step up and really take control.

Defense needs to keep on keepin' on. They've been outstanding so far and it looks like the turnovers are finally starting to come. Am I the only one who had quit the season when Calhoun was helped off the field without putting any weight on his knee? No shame if so. That would've been disaster, considering Redmond and Market are already both out for the season. Those are 3 huge pieces in the secondary.

We're getting the bye week at a good time. Unfortunately, it's a bit shortened because of the Thursday night game with Mizzou. But I still like the timing. We get to heal up some bumps and bruises like Shump. He may need to be a FB, but he still has a role. And frankly, I think we convert that 4th down if we have him. It's also hitting at a good time with some of the Pups taking on bigger, more critical roles. We can do a little more teaching for them and have them ready to play more minutes during the stretch run.

And while I'm talking scheduling: Why can't we get the Arkansas game moved to earlier in the season and replace it with a non-conference game? Or at the very least flip it with UK. We ALWAYS close out with Murderer's Row to end the season with 4 or 5 straight SEC games. Then people throw a fit because we "don't finish well." Well of course not! We're playing our toughest games all in a row. Can we PLEASE spread out our OOC games better to break up the ridiculous Murderer's Row stretch instead of playing all our "easy" games by week 5? We might be the only school in the conference that plays so many SEC games in a row. And if the SEC office is mandating this, we need to call their bluff. It shouldn't be that hard to get it fixed. Enough is enough.

Can we please stop the irrational hate for black uniforms now? This game proved what everyone with a functioning brain knew: Uniforms have zero impact on the outcome. We stomped a mud hole in UK and walked it dry. We'd have done it wearing pink, purple, or lime green. Once again, Pull the Rope Together.

That's how I saw it. You know the drill. Fire in the hole!

CLANGA,

WMD