University of Kentucky defensive coordinator Steve Brown admits he didn't get much sleep Saturday night. Watching your defense get chewed up for 348 yards on the ground — 252 of those coming from one man, Anthony Dixon — would have most coaches reaching for the Ambien.
Auburn runs the same type of spread offense as Mississippi State, has arguably a better quarterback (Chris Todd) and a back (Ben Tate) similar in style and production to Dixon, yet Kentucky shut down the Tigers.
So the question lingers: How could a Kentucky defense that looked so good against Auburn look so bad against Mississippi State?
UK played more of its nickel package against MSU than it did at Auburn, which might have freed up some running lanes. But Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said because the Bulldogs used more three- and four-receiver sets than Auburn, it made more sense to put an extra defensive back out there than to have a linebacker covering a receiver.
Instead, Brown said, the problems stemmed largely from one or two guys being out of position.
"We knew what they were going to do, we rehearsed it, and then all of a sudden you can't stop it," Brown said. "Then you go, 'dad-gummit, what did I do wrong? What could I have done better?' Then, once you fall asleep you wake up and all of a sudden you have a bad memory again. Then you finally get to the point where you just get out of bed and come over to the office. You've just got to look at the film, and it became pretty glaring. It was guy here or there. That's why we've got to have 11 guys doing their job."
There was plenty of wincing and grimacing from Brown and the players during the Sunday film session.
"We played horrible up front," defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "Our gap control wasn't there. They just ran all over us. That's completely embarrassing. We were dreading watching the film, but we had to watch it. It was ridiculous."
Bulldogs quarterbacks Chris Relf (53 yards) and Tyson Lee (27 yards) ripped off long runs because UK defenders weren't in their assigned gaps. The key to playing gap-control defense is to stay in your gap, and too often a Kentucky player would either get pushed out of his gap or leave his gap to try and make a play.
"The one play where their quarterback faked the option and kept it for a big gain, you teach a guy to sit there for the quarterback, yet he chased and there's nobody there for the quarterback," Brown said.
"It's all about being smart and using your technique," Lumpkin said. "You have to listen to the coaches, and at times we didn't do that. I think we tried at times to do a little extra and make a play because it was a big game, and you can't do that. We have to play solid technique."
Senior defensive tackle Corey Peters said being just slightly out of your gap can lead to big problems.
"In a couple of instances we got knocked out of our gap just a little bit," he said. "That gives them that initial crease, and then you get a missed tackle and people taking bad angles and then you're giving up 20-, 30-yard gains."
The Wildcats are ranked 104th in the country in rushing defense (195.9 yards per game). Saturday's opponent, Eastern Kentucky, has a balanced offense, but Coach Dean Hood might want to rethink that strategy after watching the Mississippi State tape. The Colonels ran for a season-high 183 yards last week in a 20-6 win over Southeast Missouri.
"You always want to be able to run the football," Hood said. "But sometimes they put too many in the box and you can't. But I think rushing (yards) is the critical stat in college football. If we are able to run the football (against Kentucky), obviously that would be a big plus."
The UK defensive linemen know it will be gut-check time the rest of the year, starting with the Colonels.
"(Eastern) is going to come in here and test us," Lumpkin said. "I would test us if I was an opposing offense. I'd run right at us."
His pride hurting after the MSU fiasco, Peters said the UK defensive front is looking forward to the opportunity to redeem themselves.
"I just think we got out-physicaled," Peters said. "Mississippi State wasn't as talented. One thing they did know how to do is come off the ball and hit somebody. You have to give those guys credit, but at the same time we didn't step up to the challenge. It's like back to that first snap of college football. You want to search yourself and let everybody know you're capable and allow everybody to regain that confidence back in you. The offense played well enough for us to win that game, and the defense kept putting them in bad positions."
Lindley to start, Locke out
Kentucky senior cornerback Trevard Lindley will return to the starting lineup Saturday against EKU after missing the past four games with a high-ankle sprain. Junior tailback Derrick Locke will miss the game after suffering a knee injury last week against Mississippi State.