Establishing the Run will be a challenge for UK vs. Mississippi State


Kentucky Wildcats running back Christopher Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs down the field for a touchdown during the University of Kentucky vs. University of Louisville Governor’s Cup football game on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 45-13. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Barkley Truax

Kentucky is coming off a game where its offense lit up the scoreboard, posting 41 points and recording 408 rushing yards. Despite playing another school from Mississippi at Kroger Field this week, the performance may not be a re-run of last week’s performance.

“It’s kind of different,” Kenutcky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Tuesday in his post-practice press conference. “These guys have given up 2.8 yards per carry against LSU and 1.8 verse an Arkansas team. They’re only giving up 71 yards, so it’ll be a heck of a challenge.”

“These guys” would be the Mississippi State Bulldogs, whose defense is centered around stopping the run – which they have done as effectively as anyone thus far. They’ll come into Kroger Field ranked No. 6 in the country in rushing defense.

“They’re different in everything they do schematically than anyone we see on our schedule,” Gran said.

Through two games, the Bulldogs have given up just 143 yards on the ground. Kentucky has rushed for 553 yards in its two showings. Mississippi State is so tough up front that the Cats will have to adjust their game plan.

“This is a huge challenge for us up front, on the perimeter,” Gran continued. “We’re going to have to throw the football against these guys.”

The good news there for Kentucky is Terry Wilson was 14-of-18 for 151 yards through the air last week against Ole Miss. Wilson looked more and more comfortable in the pocket as the game progressed, which led to more available options in the passing attack during the game’s later stages.

Because of this, the Bulldog defense will likely put pressure on him early. Gran knows his unit will have to be aware of extra defenders in the box in an effort to put the Wildcat offense in obvious passing situations. He thinks that’s when Mississippi State’s at its best.

“We can’t get behind the chains, that’s where they thrive,” he said. “They play hard… there’s a ton of movement all the time. There is not a play where you do not have movement on that defense.”

Moving the chains has been something Kentucky has done well early on, as it has picked up 47 first downs through two games. Chris Rodriguez Jr. has had a major role so far, setting single-game career-highs in rushing yards (133) and touchdowns (2, tied) against the Rebels last week. With Kavosiey Smoke expected to miss some time due to a broken rib, he’ll likely see more touches than usual in the coming games. His focus for this week falls in line with Gran’s key: keeping the chains moving.

“They do what they do,” he said. “We got a game plan and we’re going to go execute.”