Deke: A look at the SEC, Part 3: Kentucky and Mississippi State
by Deke Bellavia,posted Jul 16 2014 3:34PM
As SEC Media Days continue this week, let's take a look at two more teams. How will the Wildcats and the Bulldogs fare in 2014?
Kentucky Wildcats: After a dismal 2-10 record in the first year under Coach Mark Stoops, there is nowhere to go but up for the Cats from Lexington. Other than hanging tough against Alabama for the first half of the game, the Wildcats truly had nothing to brag about. Kentucky was a bad football team in 2013.
The Cats ranked at the bottom, or close to it, in all major stats last season. If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic about an offense that was an SEC worst at 14.8 points per game scoring average, it should be that the Wildcats welcome back 4 of 5 O-linemen.
UK also welcomes back leading rusher Jojo Kemp. Kemp showed signs of being a workhorse by rushing for nearly 500 yards last season. And this season RB Braylon Heard gets his shot after transferring from Nebraska. The Cats leading WR’s, Javes Blue and Ryan Timmons, should help boost the UK offense as well.
Things were not much better defense last year... the Wildcats allowed 36.4 points per game on average, as well as giving up 466 yards per game. I guess the good news is that 8 of 11 starters are back. The strength of the defense looks to be upfront with the return of D-linemen Za’Darius Williamson and Alvin Dupree. The Wildcats went to the JUCO ranks to bring in some instant help to their defensive backfield, which was one of the worst in the country last season.
Kentucky only won two games in 2013, and other than close games against South Carolina and Mississippi State, they didn't come close in any other contest. UK could be an improved team in 2014, but I wouldn't recommend looking for anything above four wins.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: Entering their final game of the regular season with a disappointing 5-6 record, the Bulldogs rallied on Turkey Night to beat rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, and followed that up with a blowout win over Rice. The thought of seven wins will not satisfy Bulldogs fans - they want more!
Coach Dan Mullen could very well have his best team to date going into this season. The offense has experience in all areas and the defense welcomes back eight starters from last season’s unit. Is this the season the Bulldogs are taken seriously?
Right now, they look to be a much better team. On offense, QB Dak Prescott returns after having a nice showing in 2013. The SEC’s 7th leading rusher averaged nearly 90 yards per game last year - the problem was that Prescott led MSU in rushing. The Bulldogs need someone to step up and get more production from the RB spot; Josh Robinson is in the mix, and averaged six yards per carry last year. And RB Ashton Shumpert is expected to be better this season too.
WR Jameon Lewis is back after hauling in 42 grabs for 483 yards last season. The Bulldogs will look to score more this season after averaging 22.4 points per game in 2013 and MSU finished 9th in total offense in the conference.
The MSU defense was not bad at all in 2013! And with eight starters back this year, the Bulldogs should be even better. The Bulldogs allowed 29.6 points per game and they were 8th in total defense in the SEC. But the brightest numbers for the MSU D came in the form of interceptions (12), 3rd down Defense (34.7 % conversions allowed) and turnovers (+5.) That turnover margin was 3rd in the SEC!
Benardrick McKinney led MSU in tackles last season during his sophomore year and folks are excited about how much better he can be in 2014. The Bulldogs defensive backfield has some fire power in the form of Will Redmond, Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love.
Looking at the schedule, I think MSU should be 3-0 when they head to Baton Rouge to take on LSU on September 20th. The Tigers have flat-out owned Mississippi State, and a win in Baton Rouge could very well be the shot in the arm MSU needs to call a signature win. If it happens they could have another very good season. But until they beat LSU, not many will give them a chance to do so.