Here’s one takeaway from Mark Stoops’ press conference today previewing Saturday’s game against No. 1-ranked Mississippi State:
The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs lead the SEC in total offense, averaging 529.7 yards per game. The Bulldogs are fourth in the league in pass offense, averaging 265.4 yards per game, and second in the league behind Georgia in rushing offense, averaging 264.3 yards per game.
State running back Josh Robinson is second only to Georgia’s Todd Gurley in rushing yards per game. Gurley, who has missed Georgia’s last two games, is averaging 154.6 yards per game. Robinson is averaging 114.8.
Here’s the thing: Misssissippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is fifth in the SEC in rushing, averaging 96 yards per game. Prescott is not only fourth in the league in pass efficiency, he’s also averaging 16 rushing attempts per game.
Meanwhile, Kentucky is coming off a game when the Cats allowed 303 rushing yards to LSU. That’s the most rushing yards given up by the Kentucky defense since Florida rushed for 405 yards on the Cats in 2011.
Yet, Mark Stoops insisted Monday that his team played the run better Saturday at Tiger Stadium than the numbers showed. That was especially true, he said, from a physical standpoint. In that area, the Cats were not as bad as the numbers might suggest.
Indeed, as Stoops pointed out, LSU’s numbers were padded by some long runs late in the game. Throuogh the first two quarters, LSU produced two three runs of double-digit yards – Terrence Magee’s 12-yard run on a first-and-10 from the UK 22-yard line in the first quarter; Leonard Fournette’s 11-yard run on a second-and-seven from the LSU 28 in the first quarter; and an 11-yard scramble by quarterback Anthony Jennings on a first-and-10 from the UK 37-yard line just before the half.
Judging from his play selection, LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wanted to establish freshman running back Leonard Fournette early. After all, Fournette was coming off a 140-yard game at Florida. But Kentucky held the heralded rookie to just 40 yards on 15 carries.
Most of LSU’s big runs came in the second half. In the third quarter alone, Magee rushed for 107 yards on five carries. He had a 38-yard run, a 35-yard run and a 23-yard run for a touchdown. Kentucky made some technical errors on those runs, which Stoops considers correctable. The coach also said the staff needs to do a better job of getting some guys some rest.
“We were not as fast later in the game as we were early,” Stoops said Monday.
Mississippi State has rushed for at least 200 yards against every team it has played this year. Dan Mullen’s club gained 302 yards on an LSU defense – in Baton Rouge, no less – that allowed Kentucky just 71 yards on Saturday night.
Plus, Prescott’s dual threat capability helps MSU’s rushing attack. A year ago, Prescott completed 58.4 percent of his passes and averaged 7.27 yards per attempt. This year, the Haughton, Louisiana native is completing 61.5 percent of his passes and averaging 9.47 yards per attempt. Defenses have to account for that.
So if stopping LSU’s running game was a tough challenge for the Kentucky defense, stopping Mississippi State’s figures to be even tougher.