UK Football

Mississippi State brings to Kentucky a perfect run-and-pass storm

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has passed and run effectively against three straight high-caliber SEC foes.
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has passed and run effectively against three straight high-caliber SEC foes. AP

It's like some sort of statistical voodoo.

Mississippi State can run as well as it passes and pass as well as it runs.

The numbers put the creep in creepy.

Of the top-ranked Bulldogs' 3,178 yards of offense this season, 1,586 of those have come on the run and 1,592 have come through the air.

Of their first downs this season, there's only a differential of five with 76 rushing and 71 passing.

Touchdowns? More of the same with 16 scores passing and 17 scores on the ground.

The Bulldogs average just one more yard passing (265.3) than they do rushing yards (264.3) this season.

It helps when your quarterback is Heisman Trophy frontrunner Dak Prescott, who has been responsible for 22 touchdowns this season (14 passing and eight rushing).

For a fan, it's fascinating.

For a defensive coach, it's maddening.

"Try to defend that," Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said of the run versus pass conflict. "Makes a difference.

"What they do offensively, schematically and with a guy like Dak running their team it puts a lot of stress on a defense. There's no easy way around it."

The numbers don't change much even when the Bulldogs are playing Southeastern Conference opponents or rated foes as they have in each of their last three games against Louisiana State, Texas A&M and Auburn.

Against those three, the Bulldogs rushed for 805 yards and passed for 793. Their first downs in those games were 35 rushing to 34 passing.

As a defense, you have to adjust for a running quarterback who is completing 61.5 percent of his passes this season and a star running back.

It's what defensive coordinator nightmares are made of.

"You have to kind of adjust some of that for the week and then on top of that, you just have to be really sound in the pass game," UK's D.J. Eliot said. "Because as soon as you tighten up for the run game, that's when they try to get one over your head."

Junior running back Josh Robinson is in the top 20 nationally rushing with 98 carries for 689 yards and eight touchdowns. Prescott is 32nd nationally in rushing with 106 carries for 575 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 96 yards a game.

He's had three straight games with 200 or more yards passing and 100 or more yards rushing, all against high-caliber SEC opponents.

It means loads of stress on Kentucky's defense.

"We have to have an almost perfect game," Kentucky defensive end Bud Dupree said. "They are the No. 1 team, so any slipups, they may take advantage of it.

"They're not going to be like anybody else and drop a ball or not run the right blocking scheme. They're going to go and hit us in the mouth, so we've gotta go out and make sure we're perfect."

Latest on Baker

It's not clear whether or not a hit by Dorian Baker will cost Kentucky's freshman wide receiver any playing time against Mississippi State on Saturday.

On his weekly Southeastern Conference teleconference Wednesday, Coach Mark Stoops was asked if Baker would be available for the whole game against the Bulldogs and he said: "We'll see. I'm not going to comment on that at this time."

Louisiana State Coach Les Miles said on Monday that his staff had sent in Baker's block on Kendall Beckwith to the league office to be reviewed for a potential targeting violation by the wideout.

"That's something that the conference is looking at," Miles said on Monday. "College football is developing what is right and expected, and it takes some work, and I think that certainly that's what the conference is doing and, you know, I think they recognize the issue of that block and they're handling it the best way they can."

For his part, Stoops did not divulge what he discussed this week with league officials.

"I'm not able to elaborate on anything the league and I discuss as far as calls and non-calls and things like that," Stoops said. "So I'm really not permitted to discuss anything that the league and I talk about with that."

Kentucky wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord was asked on Tuesday if he would've wanted his freshman to do anything differently on that block in particular.

"We've coached him to do different," Mainord said. "We don't coach him to go launch and lead with your head. That's what the SEC described it as, and that's not what we want. We're not trying to hurt people. We're trying to set blocks, and we're trying to do it the legal way. That's what we're coaching, and so we're going to keep working on that as well with Dorian and keep getting better at it."

Plays like that, whether it's ruled targeting or not, need to be taken seriously, the wide receivers coach said.

"We're going to do things to help the team," Mainord said. "So, if it penalizes him, it penalizes this football team. It penalizes all of us, and it penalizes the University of Kentucky. And that's not what we want. Didn't get penalized there, but we got to do it right. We're not out to hurt people. We're out to block."

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