“They were able to deal with the adversity of three losses and come back and string together two wins,” said Bulldog head coach Zach Arnett. “I guess coming off one loss is not going to be so traumatic to their psyches.” That was Arnett in his Monday press conference following the disappointing loss to Auburn 27-13. He continued, “These are big boys. They don’t need to be coddled. They know what it means to put in a week of work and go out and play. If you lose, you lose. And guess what? You’ve got to move on to the next one.” Arnett was preparing the fan base for yet another SEC contest. This time it’s Kentucky vs. Mississippi State at Homecoming in Starkville.
The Auburn game is one that most seem to be putting in the rearview mirror, or at least they would like to. There was a lot of hope going in, but depression coming out. The optimism going into the game actually gave way to more bewilderment than depression following the Dawgs loss to the Tigers 27-13. Why wasn’t the offense more explosive? Why did the defense not show up until the second half? Who will the starting quarterback be this time? These are all good questions, but as the coach said, one has to move on to the next one. But even doing that, those three questions still loom as they relate to this Homecoming game. Will the offense be more explosive? Will the defense show up for all four quarters? Who will be the starting quarterback?
The most concerning factor for State, in especially the last two games, is the lack of offense, or better put, the lack of effective offense. There were some brilliant plays by quarterback Mike Wright and running backs Seth Davis and Jeffery Pittman, however only one landed six points. That was a pass from Wright to Zavion Thomas, who had a breakout game at Auburn. He and Wright connected nine times for 112 yards. But, if the Dawgs are going to give competition to the Wildcats, there has to be a consistent offensive attack, not just singularly stellar plays by a handful of standouts. Then there is the ongoing saga of who will take the helm.
All My Quarterbacks
This is the third week in the mystery of who will start at quarterback. Like any good drama, Mississippi State, or perhaps the media, has thickened the plot. Will it be veteran Will Rogers, Wright, or a name most haven’t heard of, unless you follow recruiting? Chris Parson is a four-star recruit and true freshman for the Bulldogs. He went through early enrollment and has been with Rogers and Wright from the time the latter hit campus, before Spring workouts. Parson was known as a leader for the Dawgs long before he enrolled. Following the passing of then-head coach Mike Leach in December 2022, there was chaos within the signing class of 2023. Many had committed because they wanted to play for the Pirate. Parson is credited with being one of those leaders who kept the signing class together.
In terms of actually playing or starting against Kentucky, Arnett was just as cagey as before. “I think it’s Monday, and I don’t think it’s in my best interest to talk about all the specifics of the game plan,” Arnett said in his weekly presser.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay, on the other hand, was a little more forthcoming this week without committing. “Chris Parson has done a phenomenal job and he’s so eager and he asks questions,” Barbay said. “Will Rogers and Mike (Wright) have a lot of experience and he’s sitting there and asking them how would you read this if it was cover three or how would you read this if it was cover two?”
So, the drama continues, leaving the Bulldog faithful once again wondering which offense will take the field Saturday, Rogers, Wright, or now Parsons? It’s enough to make one forget about the sting of Auburn and look forward to a homecoming with the Wildcats.
They’re Called Wildcats for a Reason
Kentucky heads into Davis-Wade Stadium with a 5-3 overall record and 2-3 in the SEC. Its conference wins were against Vanderbilt and No. 22 Florida. Its conference and only losses came at the hands of No. 2 Georgia, No. 12 Missouri, and No. 17 Tennessee. In fact, Kentucky plays State this weekend after a three-game losing streak to those teams. You can bet there’ll be some Wildcats looking for Dawg meat. Both teams are in it for the same reasons. Make something better out of the season and get to bowl eligibility. The Cats have only one game to get there, so you can bet that State wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.
However, that might be a tall order considering the ever-improving performance of the Cats’ quarterback Devin Leary. He passed for 372 yards against a tough Tennessee secondary, his season-best. It makes one believe Leary may have found his groove. One of his favorite targets is Dane Key. Leary hit him seven times for 117 yards against the Vols. And on running back the Wildcats have Ray Davis. He is the kind of scatback that can give defenses fits. The Mississippi State defense should show more of that Arkansas or second-half-Auburn gameplay.
On defense, Kentucky has a pair of linebackers putting up impressive numbers too. Against Tennessee, D’Eryk Jackson and Trevin Wallace each had 11 tackles. But leading in tackles was a true freshman defensive back, Ty Bryant. This was his best game with 12 tackles this season.
All indications are that this is a Cat team with upward momentum.
One has to hand it to the Bulldogs. Typically, teams will schedule a creampuff opponent for homecoming, so that alums can include the win along with reliving other past campus conquests. However, Kentucky is no creampuff, far from it. Scheduling probably took place some time ago, however, Mark Stoops has been putting up a formidable team, improving for the past 11 seasons.
This will be the 51st meeting between the Bulldogs and the Wildcats, a series that couldn’t be more evenly divided. They each have won 25 times and Kentucky hasn’t beaten State at Davis-Wade since 2008. Stoops has never won a game in Starkville. Perhaps this is a good omen for the Dawgs? But they shouldn’t be taking anything for granted. This season has been fraught with potholes, so nothing is a safe bet these days. Where that goes the Bulldogs are a three-point underdog.
The 1998 SEC Western Division Champion team will be celebrated at Homecoming this year. Head coach Jackie Sherrill will be on hand along with the players, cheerleaders, and band. It should be a great weekend. For the 2023 Dawgs on the field, it will be great to come away with their second SEC win. Maybe some of that 1998 mojo will rub off on Saturday.
Kentucky v. Mississippi State is on the SEC Network at 7:30 pm ET Saturday.