Kentucky braces for close-up with Leach, Mississippi State
In a miniscule sample size of two weeks, Mississippi State has experienced a massive range of emotions.
Kentucky has variations to address, too, with serious discrepancies in production between its offense and defense.
The Bulldogs visit Kentucky for Saturday night’s Southeastern Conference game at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky.
“It will be a contrast,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said. “They want to run the ball and use the clock. We’re going to throw it.”
Leach is dealing with the highs and lows in his first season with the Bulldogs (1-1, 1-1 SEC). They knocked off reigning national champion LSU in the opener, then returned home and lost to Arkansas, which ended a 20-game SEC losing streak, the following week.
Kentucky (0-2, 0-2) lost at Auburn and then dropped an overtime decision in the home opener against Mississippi.
“There’s a lot of good things to build on,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. “Offensively, I thought we played extremely well. Really did some good things offensively. (We) were very efficient, moved the football.”
Quarterback Terry Wilson received positive grades from the Kentucky coaching staff after the second game. The defense didn’t pan out so well.
Mississippi scored four touchdowns across six second-half possessions.
“Defensively, we just didn’t play good enough, period,” Stoops said. “We need to put our players in better position. We need to coach better. We need to play better.”
The Kentucky defense faces an abundant challenge with Mississippi State showing up. After all, in the Bulldogs’ road upset at LSU they racked up a 44-34 victory as transfer quarterback K.J. Costello passed for an SEC-record 623 yards to go with five touchdowns.
“You know what Mike can do offensively — very creative, puts a lot of pressure on you as well,” Stoops said.
Leach’s team needs more time to adjust to his system. He just doesn’t want the team to use that as a crutch.
“We have what we have. The situation is what it is and everybody else is in it, too,” Leach said. “You try to be as good as you possibly can every day. Every team is fighting that. We are, and it was apparent the last game.”
Mississippi State struggled offensively when facing zone coverage in the Arkansas game. Leach expects to see more of that from opponents.
“We need to be a lot more precise,” he said. “Our execution was the difference. That’s not some special thing.”
If Kentucky drops eight players into pass coverage, the Bulldogs will have to find ways to combat that.
“Just be patient,” Leach said. “Stretch the field, which you have to do aggressively.”
Kentucky is trying to avoid a second consecutive 0-3 start in SEC play. Because of pandemic-related attendance restrictions, fan turnout will be limited to about 12,000.
This will be a homecoming for Leach, who’s a former Kentucky assistant coach. He has never visited Lexington as a head coach.
“Not a lot of time to walk down memory lane, but it will be good to see Lexington,” he said.
–Field Level Media