Cats gear up for Miss. State ground game

Potential absence of Johnson comes at bad time

ccosby@herald-leader.comOctober 28, 2009 

The numbers don't look good.

Mississippi State comes to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday boasting a running game ranked 18th in the country. Kentucky, meanwhile, is last in the Southeastern Conference in run defense.

The Wildcats also might be without one of their top run-stuffers — middle linebacker Micah Johnson.

But sometimes the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Sure, UK is giving up 174.1 yards a game on the ground. But that number is somewhat deceiving. Take away Florida's 362-yard rushing performance in a 41-7 loss on Sept. 26, and the Cats' average is a more respectable 142.8.

Alabama running back Mark Ingram ran for 140 yards against UK but broke off 32 of those on a touchdown run in the third quarter. Auburn ran for 204 yards on the Cats, but most of that was between the tackles and was still several yards below their average.

Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen isn't fooled by Kentucky's statistics.

"They gave a bunch of yards to Florida, and they gave up some yards to Alabama and Auburn but, in the other games, they shut people down," Mullen said. "Statistically, sometimes you can get skewed of where you are ranked because of who you've played, but their overall body of work has been pretty good."

UK Coach Rich Brooks concurred.

"I think we had one really bad game, against Florida. Other than that, I think Ingram did some damage, but I thought we did, overall, other than a couple of plays in that game, we did a good job. I think our rush defense is a lot better than what it looks like statistically."

Mississippi State runs a spread attack similar to what Mullen ran while he was offensive coordinator at Florida. The Bulldogs don't rely on the quarterback running the ball as much as the Gators rely on Tim Tebow, but they do have one of the most productive backs in the league in 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior Anthony Dixon. Dixon is third in the Southeastern Conference in rushing (107 yards per game) and tied for second with seven touchdowns.

Compounding that problem is the potential loss of Johnson, who's questionable with a strained knee.

"We are facing a big, physical running back, and Micah just happens to be a big, physical linebacker," Brooks said.

If Johnson can't play, redshirt sophomore Ronnie Sneed will make his first career start. Sneed assisted on two tackles filling in for Johnson in last week's 36-13 win over Louisiana-Monroe. It was the first major, prime-time game action for Sneed, whose main contributions have come on special teams. Sneed specializes in run support and, while he's not as big as Johnson, he's no small fry at 6-2, 235.

"He has been in the system long enough to do a pretty good job on the reads and understands what we are trying to do. He just does not bring the same physical presence at that spot as No. 4 (Johnson) does," Brooks said. "He's inexperienced, but I think he has a pretty good future. This may be the time we are going to find out."

"I know the fans and everybody are wondering, 'Who's behind Micah? He's leaving. Is the defense going to fall apart?' But we'll be fine," Sneed said. "We've got guys ready to step in and get the job done. I've watched Micah and taken mental reps since I've been here. I've learned from the best."

Sneed seemed remarkably poised when talking to reporters about possibly making his first career start.

"I don't feel any pressure at all," he said. "I'm just Ronnie Sneed. I'm going to do my thing and try and help us win the game. I'm pretty confident in my game, and I've been waiting. I'm just ready to go out and show everybody what I can do."

Brooks clarifies stanceon black uniforms

UK has dubbed Saturday a "Blackout" game, with all fans encouraged to wear black for Halloween. That started fans and players buzzing about the possibility of the team wearing black uniforms for the game. Brooks frowned on that idea, saying that black wasn't an official school color. On Tuesday, he also noted that wearing black jerseys would not be feasible because they don't exist.

"We don't have black jerseys," Brooks said. "The marketing department came up with a brilliant idea, and I hope our fans follow through on it, but we do not have black jerseys. You have to order them well in advance."

Brooks answered several questions about it on his Monday night radio show and clearly was ready to move on from the issue on Tuesday.

"I've said what I'm going to say about it," Brooks said. "I'm done with it. I'm worried about Mississippi State, believe it or not. That is the most important thing. We're playing a very important football game, and we better worry about them coming in here and trying to knock us out in our own stadium."

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service