Across the (By)Line: Mississippi State


Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square (5) celebrates during the University of Kentucky vs. South Carolina football game on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. UK won 16-10. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

The “Across the (By)Line” series will give Kentucky football fans an in-depth look at their opponent for this week — from the mind of the opposing school’s sports editor. 

This week: The Reflector, Tanner Marlar, Mississippi State 

Should Mississippi State be the favorite to win on Saturday?

Marlar: I currently don’t even have Mississippi State picked to win it. I know Vegas has us favored by two. I don’t see why; I understand a good win over Texas A&M, but you look at Kentucky and they also have a big win over Florida. I personally don’t see why we’re favored by two, however. I’m not really gonna complain about it too much.

It’s a homecoming game for us. I think that also plays a big factor and it’s gonna be a big atmosphere for a night game here in Starkville. I don’t see this being any kind of blowout either way. I really think that Davis Wade Stadium is going to be packed, it’s going to be rocking, and it’s going to be loud. The question is going to be whether Kentucky can handle that, and I think they can.

Describe quarterback Will Rogers’ game.

Marlar: It’s spotty at best. Honestly, he’s had some good moments, he’s had some bad moments, and a lot of people chalk that up to him being young. I’m not sure about it; to me, he seems like a West Coast quarterback where it’s either touchdown or check down. 

There’s been some issues this year with him trying to either force the issue in terms of reads or just not making enough reads. And seems like that check down route to the flats has become almost second nature to him at times — when it’s not, he’s very dangerous. When he’s keeping his eyes downfield and letting routes develop and when his line allows time to let those routes develop, he is a very dangerous quarterback. 

It just depends on which Will Rogers shows up Saturday.

How has the Air Raid evolved in year two for Mike Leach?

Marlar:  I have my discrepancies about it — I think it’s a good offense, I think it can work. I think it’s working much better than it did last year and that it’s much more dangerous than it was last year, but there’s still some kinks to be ironed out, obviously, and a lot of that comes down to youth. 

This team is still incredibly young, especially at the quarterback spot. Will Rogers is now in his sophomore season, he’s only started 14 games in two years, so he’s still learning the offense. It’s an offense that takes a lot of time to really be able to master.

Six Bulldog receivers have over 200 yards receiving on the season. Which one has the best chance at hurting Kentucky?

Marlar: Makai Polk is leading the SEC in receiving yards. His route running is absolutely elite. 

I figure he comes back next year and the year after that, he’s a NFL-type wide receiver. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s got great hands. I can’t harp enough on his route running — he’s very precise. He can run the whole route tree, so he’s going to be a guy that Kentucky’s really gonna have to watch out for.

Kentucky only allows an average 202 passing yards per game. Mississippi State averages 375. What’s the key for the passing game to click on Saturday?

Marlar: It’s going to be hard to be able to find targets down the field. There have been very few times this year where Will Rogers has had more than 10 yards per completion, and there’s only been very few times where he’s more than eight yards per attempt. 

You’re gonna have to be able to find targets down the field and across the sticks, otherwise that Kentucky defense is gonna swarm to the ball — that’s something they’ve done fairly well all year, being able to rally to the ball be able to tackle guys short of the stick, so you’ll have to get completions beyond the first down mark.

The Bulldogs rank third in the SEC behind Georgia and Alabama in stopping the run (93 yards per game). What’s worked for the Mississippi State front seven this season?

Marlar: The Mississippi State front seven has always been a pretty constant thing. Mississippi State historically has always been a defensive program. We’re a pipeline state for defensive lineman, that’s just how it is. The state of Mississippi produces defensive linemen and running backs; that’s what the state’s known for. 

That front four is really where that defense shines. Aaron Brule, Nathaniel Watson — a lot of those guys in that linebacking core are really talented athletes; they’re going to be able to fly to the ball.

That front seven coached by Zach Arnett has been solid all year. I don’t expect them to have a lot of issues with the run, as has been the theme this year. The real question is going to be, can they limit the big plays over the top?


Kentucky (6-1):

Will Levis — 119-177, 1,326 yards, 13 touchdowns, six interceptions.

Wan’Dale Robinson — 49 receptions, 566 yards, five touchdowns.

Chris Rodriguez Jr. — 127 attempts, 775 yards, five touchdowns. 10 receptions, 33 yards, two touchdowns.

DeAndre Square — 50 tackles, 31 solo, three sacks, one forced fumble.

Mississippi State (4-3):

Will Rogers — 291-396, 2,546 yards, 18 touchdowns, seven touchdowns.

Makai Polk — 58 receptions, 552 yards, six touchdowns.

Jaden Walley — 30 receptions, 338 yards, four touchdowns.

Jett Johnson — 50 tackles, 19 solo, one forced fumble.