Mississippi State’s defense braces for Kentucky
Mississippi State’s recent success has been built on defense,
but during last week’s 29-24 victory over Alabama-Birmingham, that
defense showed some holes.
The Bulldogs (6-2, 2-2 SEC) say that can’t happen again when
they host Kentucky (4-4, 1-4) on Saturday. The Wildcats are second
in the conference in scoring, averaging nearly 35 points, thanks to
rapidly improving quarterback Mike Hartline and versatile playmaker
Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said his
unit’s poor performance wasn’t a reason to panic, but it certainly
gave the defense more reason to focus over the past week.
”We were playing with a dull blade,” Diaz said. ”We just
lacked cutting edge. Our tackling was poor – we regressed there. I
didn’t think we covered very well, and we didn’t play the run very
Then Diaz broke into a grin.
”Other than that, we were spot-on fantastic,” he said.
The good news for the Bulldogs is they’ve certainly played well
before – especially in a 10-7 win two weeks ago at then-No. 22
Florida. For the season, they’re allowing 17 points per game.
Holding Kentucky to that total will be a challenge, considering
the Wildcats have scored at least 31 each of their last four games.
But linebacker Chris White said its important that the defense
doesn’t fall into the trap of saying it’s OK to give up a few
”Our goal is stop them completely,” said White, who has 25
tackles over the past two games. ”I’m not arrogant to say they
ain’t going to get a point, but my goal is we can’t just say, ‘Hey,
let’s give them seven points here and try to stop them next time,’
because they might get more points than we want them to.”
Kentucky’s offense is expected to miss running back Derrick
Locke, who has a shoulder injury. But the Wildcats still have
plenty of offense between Hartline and Cobb.
Hartline has quietly become one of the SEC’s most prolific
quarterbacks, throwing for 2,144 yards, 17 touchdowns and four
interceptions this season. Cobb is the team’s leading receiver with
47 catches for 511 yards and five touchdowns. He’s also the team’s
second-leading rusher and a threat to throw, completing 4 of 6
passes for 51 yards and three touchdowns.
Diaz said Cobb presents a ”unique challenge” that’s different
than facing Auburn’s Cameron Newton, who is a frontrunner for the
”In a way, (Cobb) presents a more dynamic element than Newton
even, because he can be lined up anywhere,” Diaz said. ”Cam
Newton is tough to deal with, but they snap it to him every play
for the most part. But with Cobb, there’s no telling.”
Mississippi State is on a five-game winning streak, the
program’s longest since 1999. The Bulldogs should get a boost from
the return of starting running back Vick Ballard, who missed the
UAB game because of a sprained ankle.
Though not nearly as explosive as Kentucky, Mississippi State
has been effective, scoring nearly 29 points per game and ranking
second in the league with 219.2 yards rushing per game.
Ballard’s been a big part of that. His 11 TDs rushing are second
in the SEC.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said the Bulldogs aren’t afraid to
run, run and then run some more. And they have no issue punting the
ball and letting their defense make plays.
He said Mississippi State is a very physical team that is good
at imposing its will on the offensive and defensive lines – which
helped in victories over Florida and Georgia. For all the talk of
the Wildcats’ high-flying passing offense, Phillips said they must
find a way to run the ball against the Bulldogs, or it could be a
”For us to win this game, we’ve got to win the physical battle
and a lot of that comes down to running the football,” Phillips