Through three weeks of the season, Mississippi State looked remarkably good and was making its way towards the top ten. Then in Week 4, Kentucky hosted the Bulldogs and sent them home with a 28-7 loss.
Was it a bad result because it was on the road? Probably not, as MSU thrashed Kansas State 31-10 in Manhattan. Was it a lookahead situation with Dan Mullen’s return coming the following week? That’s more plausible to me.
As much as anything, though, it was a game that laid bare Mississippi State’s strengths and weaknesses. As such, it created a map for Florida to follow to try to get the win in Starkville. Here are the biggest takeaways I had from that game.
Stop explosive run plays
While reviewing Mississippi State’s win over Kansas State, it was striking to me how much smaller the K-State defense looked than the Bulldog offense. The linebackers looked defensive back-sized, and MSU’s big and strong players just overpowered the defense. That’s how MSU ended up with almost 400 yards rushing in a dominant win. KSU is built to deal with the Big 12’s Air Raids, and a physical run game mowed right through it.
Kentucky’s defense didn’t look smaller than the Mississippi State offense. Those Wildcats were built to stop SEC offenses and their power rushing attacks, and so they had a much better time of it.
The top thing Florida can do then is something I’ve been chronicling for three weeks in my defensive film study pieces: match size with size. I think the Gators will be best served by using their 3-4 sets in run situations rather than trying to get by with the 3-3-5 and having a safety be the seventh man in the box.
MSU is this year like it was last year, an efficient offense that isn’t terribly explosive. Against Kansas State, though, that size advantage up front opened holes and led to big plays. The Bulldogs had ten runs of at least ten yards on KSU, a little more than a quarter of all non-sack carries. If the Bulldog run game can generate big plays, it’s over because it’s going to be fairly efficient regardless.