Kentucky desperate to cage the Bulldogs after back-to-back losses


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky Wildcats running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs the ball down the field during the No. 13 Kentucky vs. South Carolina football game on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost 24-14. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Coming off its second loss in a row against South Carolina on Saturday, Kentucky football is desperate for a bounce-back win against Mississippi State.

The Wildcats struggled without starting quarterback, and likely first round 2023 NFL Draft pick, Will Levis, who was sidelined with a foot injury he suffered in UK’s loss to Ole Miss.

Replacing the star QB was redshirt freshman Kaiya Sheron.

Sheron did not play poorly, throwing for 178 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. The offense stalled regardless, being unable to secure points on 10 out of 12 total offensive drives.

To make matters worse, two-thirds of Kentucky’s receiving trio, Dane Key and Tayvion Robinson, were injured against the Gamecocks, a crushing blow to the offense even if Levis, who is still day-to-day, comes back.

Key emphasized on Tuesday that he would be able to play, though his hand has been wrapped since he went down clutching it in the game.

Also, even having its best game of the season, Kentucky was only able to muster 121 rushing yards with Chris Rodriguez Jr. putting up 126 by himself before UK’s six allowed sacks saw Sheron finish with negative-24 rushing yards.

Speaking of sacks, allowing the quarterback to be hit is a problem Kentucky has had all season, entering the game with 19 allowed against Levis before allowing an astounding six sacks on Sheron, more than doubling South Carolina’s total for sacks this season.

Suffice to say, Kentucky is in a very bad place right now and desperately needs to bounce back after consecutive losses.

Now, who is their opponent this week? Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs have skyrocketed in the rankings these past few weeks, going from unranked to No. 23 after defeating then No. 17 Texas A&M and then up to No. 16 this week after defeating Arkansas last week.

The Bulldog offense scored an average of 41 points in both of those games, defeating the Aggies 42-24 and the Razorbacks 40-17.

Mississippi State is led on offense by junior quarterback Will Rogers, who has thrown for 2,110 yards – first in the FBS – with 22 touchdowns – second in the FBS – and just three interceptions.

He didn’t just come from nowhere either, finishing the 2021 season with 4,739 yards for 36 touchdowns and nine interceptions, though he is currently on track to blow that total number of touchdowns out of the water if he holds form in the second half of the season.

The Bulldogs have four receivers with over 200 receiving yards this season and nine over 100, compared to Kentucky’s five with over 100 receiving yards.

It’s not a secret that Mississippi State is an air-raid team, with only 640 total rushing yards this season as opposed to the 2,110 passing yards from Rogers and backup Sawyer Robertson adding 18 more.

Doing a bit of math, that’s 76.8% of Mississippi State’s total offensive yardage coming from passes, which isn’t too far off from Kentucky this year, with the Wildcats having notoriously struggled to get its run game going in the absence of Rodriguez Jr. for the first four games. Passing yards make up 74% of Kentucky’s total offense, slightly less than Mississippi State, but still a severely imbalanced figure.

To put into context, the top three college football teams according to the AP Poll, Georgia, Ohio State and Alabama, allow passing yards to make up only around half of the total offensive production at 61%, 58% and 51% respectively.

With that being said, the key to stopping either team is to shut down the passing game but, in the case of Kentucky, if Levis can’t play the Wildcats may not have much of a passing game to begin with.

Kentucky does have one lifeline though: home field advantage.

Looking back to history, the matchup between Kentucky and Mississippi State has been won by the home team every year for the last seven years.

To add to that, Mississippi State has only played one road SEC game all season, a 31-16 loss to LSU, with two total road games including a 39-17 win over 3-3 Arizona.

Whether or not Kentucky can keep the home-winning streak alive will be determined on Saturday, but depending on injury news and updates, it may be predicted earlier than that.

That said, one never knows the result until they play the game.

Kentucky and Mississippi State are currently scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. EST inside Kroger Field on Saturday, Oct. 15, with the matchup airing live on the SEC Network.