MSU running game whistling Dixon

UK had no answer for Bulldog battering ram

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 1, 2009 

During the Urban Meyer era, Kentucky has had faint little success slowing down Florida.

In a game the Wildcats really needed, they had no luck stopping the attack of Meyer's old offensive coordinator.

With running back Anthony Dixon running around, through and over a shockingly porous Kentucky defensive front, Mississippi State hung a 31-24 defeat on UK Saturday in a chilled Commonwealth Stadium.

Dan Mullen, who called the plays for the Florida offense that hung 63 points on the Cats last season in The Swamp, is the new Mississippi State head man.

At MSU, he doesn't have a Tim Tebow or a fleet of sleek skill players surrounding him.

What he does have is Dixon, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound battering ram of a tailback.

Already Mississippi State's all-time leading rusher, the senior from Jackson, Miss., had a career night in Lexington.

His final numbers were staggering: 252 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.

"He ended up being a lot better than we thought," Kentucky defensive coordinator Steve Brown said of Dixon.

What was excruciatingly frustrating from the UK perspective was that Dixon appeared to do most of his damage running the same play over and over and over.

"I'm not sure I remember a team running the ball as effectively on us the way they did," said Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks. "Most of it was between the tackles."

MSU's totals of 493 yards of offense and 348 yards of rushing were both season highs.

The offense Mullen called for Meyer at Florida was built on misdirection. On Saturday night, Mississippi State ran counter plays with Dixon repeatedly.

Kentucky couldn't stop it.

"All day. All day. It was unbelievable," Brown said of MSU's success with the counter play. "We didn't do a good job of making it bounce east and west. It seemed like it was always going downhill on us."

In the third quarter, when Mississippi State scored three touchdowns to turn a 17-10 halftime deficit into a 31-24 lead, it seemed Dixon was running straight down Mount Everest.

On the TD drive that tied the game at 17, he gashed UK with runs of 8, 17, 9, 7 and a 2-yard scoring run.

With Kentucky having no answer for the big back, MSU QB Tyson Lee faked to him on the second play of the next possession. The play-action froze the Kentucky secondary like ice.

The result was a 67-yard scoring bomb to O'Neal Wilder.

Next, on what proved to be the Bulldogs' game-winning drive, Dixon got it started with a 47-yard jaunt.

Off the same counter (the flow of play goes one way, the running back takes the ball in the opposite direction) play.

Why couldn't UK stop it?

"I honestly couldn't even tell you," Kentucky defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "I think that is the question that plagues the entire defense.

"We knew they were going to run the ball. We knew they were going to run the counter. We prepared for it. But we couldn't stop it."

It was a puzzling night for Kentucky all the way around. In a close game that was vital to the bowl aspirations of the Wildcats (4-4), UK played the entire fourth quarter without ever getting the football to multi-faceted star Randall Cobb on a play from scrimmage.

Still, with Kentucky's passing game of limited effectiveness since the knee injury knocked starting quarterback Mike Hartline out of action in the South Carolina game, the Cats offense managed to score 24 points in an SEC contest.

The Kentucky defense needed to rise to the occasion and make that stand.

It didn't.

Said Peters: "They ran the ball down our throats."

For Mullen, the ultimate outcome — Kentucky unable to stop his offense — surely felt familiar.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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