Another day, another frustrating second half by the Bulldogs on their way to their fourth win of the season with a victory over Kentucky, 28-22. MSU again jumped out to a nice start because that hasn't been a problem for them in any game this season. State took the 21-7 lead and seemed to be well on their way to a blowout win over an SEC opponent.
The Bulldogs came out for the second half and put only seven points on the board which happened to be just enough to knock off the Wildcats and get their first SEC win of the season. With the rest of the schedule as tough as it's been this season, MSU has no room to play the way they have going forward.
While it was a rough game, the Bulldogs won the game and now we want to look back at what I said State had to do to win. My three keys to victory were: Take the pass rush out of the game, don't let the (lack of) atmosphere kill your performance and give defensive pressure early and often.
Take the Pass Rush out of the Game: Kentucky has not been great this year defensively, but one thing they've done well at under Mark Stoops is get pressure on the quarterback. I thought with Dak Prescott in the game the Bulldogs could hold that pass rush off. That wasn't exactly the case. While Russell entered for one drive, he was injured on a bad read that turned in to a loss on third down and wouldn't return for the rest of the game with an apparent ankle injury.
Prescott struggled against the rush to. Early on, a big rush on third down on the opening drive nearly turned disastrous. Prescott shook off the rush, rolled right and fired down the field to a wide open Malcolm Johnson for a touchdown. After that, there were no more positives coming from the MSU offense when getting under pressure. Prescott was sacked three times for over 30 yards, one sack for an 18-yard loss on third down that eventually lead to a safety. The Bulldogs failed to elude that pass rush last night but still had a successful offensive night putting 447 yards on the board.
Don't Let the Lack of Atmosphere Kill Your Performance : Boy, was that a bad crowd last night. MSU announced another sellout for a crowd that wasn't even close to being at capacity. As a matter of fact, that might have been the worst attended ball game under Dan Mullen. It was that bad. In its defense, there were a lot of things working against it last night with MSU playing on fall break, MSU playing Kentucky, MSU playing midweek at 6:30 and MSU just playing plain lackluster as of late.
It's hard to imagine an SEC football player being so used to playing in front of raucous environments coming out to a half-empty Davis Wade Stadium to a boring environment. That's no excuse for players not being ready to play, but it definitely can hinder a player's performance. Does this have a hand in the terrible second-halves that the Bulldogs put up? It could very well be.
Defensive Pressure Early and Often: This didn't really work out either. The Bulldogs just haven't had the defensive push the last few weeks that they did early but a lot of last night's productivity was pushed away by what Kentucky wanted to do offensively. The Wildcats threw a lot of quick screens throughout the night and either had lots of drops or some nice gains, not much in between.
The Bulldogs did get a sack out of Denico Autry and some pressure by Chris Jones and Preston Smith throughout the night. There wasn't a huge amount of pressure, but the Bulldogs weren't playing soft. Still some nice things to take away defensively.
My prediction was 34-17. I wasn't incredibly far off with that prediction, but the Bulldogs struggled through this one. Just like the Bowling Green game, the win counts the same no matter the score. State can't afford another game like this the rest of the way especially in the next two ball games when they go on the road. The Bulldogs are two wins away from bowl eligibility and would love to steal one or two games before getting to the Arkansas game and having to win their last two to get eligible. Should be an interesting second half of the schedule.