STM Gameday: Mississippi State Falls Apart at Kentucky in an Embarrassing 28-7 Loss

Mississippi State had looked the part of its preseason expectations through its first three games, but as the Bulldogs left the field in Lexington, KY, that bubble had burst and MSU found itself asking what went wrong in an embarrassing 28-7 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats. State’s offense, which had been so effective in the first three games, must have remained in Starkville, as the Bulldogs suffered through their worse offensive performance since a 197 yard effort against #1 Alabama in 2013. State only racked up 201 total yards, with a mere 56 yards on the ground. Joe Moorhead’s offense was simply unable to do anything against a Kentucky defense that was better at the point of attack all night.

THE PLAY

It was 14-7 and MSU was still very much in the game when Nick Fitzgerald overthrew an open Keith Mixon, and the ball sailed right into the hands of Kentucky defensive back Tyrell Ajian, who returned it down to the MSU 36 yard line. Benny Snell took it into the endzone on the very next play, effectively ending the game with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter. As well as Fitzgerald played a week ago, he played that poorly tonight, and to make matters worse, he wasn’t able to get anything going on the ground. Mississippi State can win games when Fitzgerald is missing passes if he’s picking up yards on the ground, but no team is going to win with quarterback play like that.

THE PLAYER

I will be incredibly surprised if Benny Snell is not the SEC Offensive Player of this Week, and he will likely be up for some national recognition as well. He told the media he was going to run on Mississippi State’s defense, and he held true to his word, racking up 165 yards on the ground to go with four touchdowns. Snell looked every bit the part of an elite running back Saturday, gashing the Bulldogs with big plays and getting the tough yards when his team needed it.

DON’T BE FOOLED

You may see that high praise for Snell and think the defense is to blame in this one. Do not fall into that trap, the defense played well enough to win. Holding an SEC team to 300 yards offense is perfectly acceptable, and MSU also had ten tackles for loss, three sacks, and an interception. The Bulldogs were victimized by poor special teams play and their own offensive ineptitude, and three Kentucky touchdowns came on those short fields. Sure, Snell had a great game, but it would have been for naught if the Bulldog offense had shown up.

THE WORST PART

That’s not a misprint, a computer error, or a bad dream. Mississippi State had 16 penalties tonight for 139 yards, including four unsportsmanlike conducts. Mississippi State’s starting tackles, Greg Eiland and Stewart Reese, were responsible for six false starts between them. No team is going to win giving away yards like this. MSU looked as undisciplined as I remember in a long time, going back to the end of the Jackie Sherrill era. Joe Moorhead has a reputation as a player’s coach, but he will have to bring the hammer down on this. A repeat of this performance would be a huge indictment on him as the leader of this program.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Y’all remember this guy? The game MSU fans have had circled on the calendar since the last week of November is finally here, only the Bulldogs don’t have the perfect record those fans were counting on. Now, all of the emotion of Dan Mullen’s return will have to be put aside as Mississippi State finds themselves in must win mode if they want to keep their hopes alive of a special season. A loss to Mullen and his Florida squad would be more devastating than most Egg Bowl defeats. Simply put, Mississippi State is in must-win mode now, and can’t afford to its former head coach walk out of Davis Wade Stadium with a smile on his face.

CAN MISSISSIPPI STATE FIX IT?

Photo courtesy of Mississippi State athletics.

Man, you tell me. This was a shockingly bad performance against a Kentucky team that is good, but certainly not elite. A year ago, the Bulldogs rolled up nearly 300 yards on the ground alone in a 45-7 win over the Wildcats. This year, with an offense that before tonight everybody would have said was improved, the Bulldogs could do absolutely nothing. This team lacks an offensive identity, they don’t have the same physicality Mullen teams possessed, but the passing game Moorhead talked about this offseason doesn’t appear to be available either. Defense can only carry you so far when your offense keeps them on the field. Moorhead is going to have to re-evaluate his philosophy to take advantage of what his quarterbacks can do. The receiver position has been upgraded, so let those guys catch some short passes and make plays, not everything has to be 15 yards down the field or further. State needs to commit to a running back and go, either Williams or Hill. Finally, the Bulldogs have to be that smash-mouth team we’ve seen in the past. Run the football, let Fitzgerald do what he does best, and play to your strengths. If State can figure that out, they can still have a tremendous season. If they don’t, what many (myself included) have called the most talented MSU team in years could squander everything, and leave Joe Moorhead with an angry fan base and an early hot seat.