Grading Mississippi State's disappointing loss at Kentucky
Just when it couldn’t get any worse for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs lost 40-38 at Kentucky on Austin MacGinnis’ 51-yard field goal. MSU is staring at a dismal 2-5 record with a chance to win maybe two more games.
The quarterbacking is bad and the Bulldogs aren’t beating teams they should be beating. Fans would like to go ahead and check off a win next week against Samford, then they remember South Alabama.
Another bad first: Mississippi State’s loss at BYU was the Bulldogs’ first road non-conference loss under Dan Mullen. Saturday’s loss in Lexington was the Bulldogs’ first loss to the Wildcats under Mullen. He was 7-0.
Should have been over earlier: Not to add insult to injury, but if Kentucky doesn’t do a Kentucky thing and fumble as it was about to go up 17 points in the fourth quarter, this one was more embarrassing. Mark McLaurin took the fumble 81 yards for a touchdown to get the Bulldogs within three points.
The quarterbacking numbers: The Bulldogs are one of only five teams in the SEC averaging fewer than 200 passing yards per game. And they didn’t come close to that Saturday. Nick Fitzgerald was 13-for-21 with 81 yards, a touchdown and a pick.
Running game still a mess: Give this to Fitzgerald. He had 107 yards rushing on 16 carries. That’s not a bad thing but considering the options the Bulldogs have in the backfield, someone should have already emerged. But six other backs got carries against Kentucky, no one more than eight touches. Wide receiver Malik Dear had the second-most yards with 77.
Third-down issues: Mississippi State is next-to-last in the SEC in third-down conversions at 33 percent. The Bulldogs were right on that low number, 4-of-12 against the Wildcats.
Offense — C: Fitzgerald can run the ball but can’t establish a passing game. By the time the Bulldogs went to Fred Ross, it was too late. Ross should be dominating Kentucky with more than five catches for 50 yards.
Defense — F: Kentucky is 10th in the SEC in scoring offense and had been held to 20 or fewer points four times this season. The Wildcats’ 40 points were the second most this season and were the result of a balanced attack (292 passing and 262 rushing). After going ahead late on Ross’ touchdown, the Bulldogs allowed Kentucky to drive for a game-winning field goal.
Special teams — A: Westin Graves made his only attempt (36) and Keith Mixon had three kick returns for 96 yards.
Coaching — F: Using too many running backs, not throwing to Ross enough, not throwing to Dear at all. And other than Fitzgerald’s running ability, is it time to give Damian Williams a shot? Fitzgerald has thrown for 200 yards or more only twice, once a have-to effort at UMass.
Overall — D: Mississippi State took a late lead but 69 seconds was enough for Kentucky to pull it off, even though the Wildcats botched their handling of the clock. The rally is worth more than an F grade, but the comeback was as much Kentucky making mistakes as Mississippi State coming back.
Is there a game plan? The Bulldogs’ offense is all over the place. Yes, they entered 2-4 but needed to show they are still plenty good enough to beat a lower tier East team. They allowed touchdowns of 44, 34 and 40 in the third quarter. That was not the plan.
QB Nick Fitzgerald: Criticize where needed, but credit him too. Fitzgerald’s 16 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns is workman-like.
DL Johnathan Calvin: Seven tackles, two for loss and a sack for the senior.
WR Fred Ross: Ross had five catches for 50 yards and the clutch go-ahead touchdown in the final minute.