Kentucky capitalizes on explosive plays
Kentucky didn’t get much going offensively. But what they did do was hit a few key explosive plays and then turn those explosive plays into scores. All three of Kentucky’s scoring drives featured at least one explosive play that put the Wildcats into striking position. The Mississippi State defense played well overall, but on the few cases where they gave Kentucky an opportunity to put points on the board, Kentucky capitalized.
I can’t even necessarily call that the “difference in the game” considering that UK’s defense literally outscored the MSU offense. But assuming a normal bad day from the offense as opposed to a completely embarrassing one, those explosive plays allowed hypothetically could’ve been the difference. I’m not sure that even makes sense, but I’m going with it.
Kentucky scored on their first possession of the game. They set up their opening TD with a shot play to slot receiver Tayvion Robinson. UK QB Devin Leary sprints out to his right, steps up, and finds Robinson wide open on a post route for a 37-yard gain down to the MSU 14. MSU was in a Cover 3 look with a single high safety, meaning the middle of the field is “closed”. In theory, that should mean a post route gets taken away, especially since neither outside WR runs a route that would put the deep safety in conflict. So why was Robinson so wide open?
I don’t know! I don’t have the all-22 film for State, and the broadcast didn’t give a replay that shows what happened downfield to get Robinson free. But I can make an educated guess. The sprint-out from Leary is where it starts. Leary moving to his right is naturally going to pull the safety to the right side of the field. That alone can help get the safety out of position to defend the post route.
This is also a case of breaking the typical mold for most sprint-out plays. Usually, when a play is designed to move a QB outside the pocket, the route combination from the receivers will attack the side of the field the QB moves to. You’ll see concepts such as Smash, Sail, and Flood. A slot receiver is almost always going to be on some sort of out-breaking route towards the sidelines. We don’t have a look that shows this, but I would be surprised if Robinson didn’t have some sort of fake to the outside at the top of his route to get the safety, Shawn Preston, to bite outside.
Preston has had a strong season. He plays aggressively from his Dog safety position, and that’s allowed him to make several big plays this season as a ball hawk over top. Kentucky OC Liam Coen had a good call dialed up to take advantage of that aggressiveness, and they scored four plays later.
The Cats punched in their other offensive touchdown in the final minute of the first half. Another explosive play from the WR sets up this TD, but this time it comes on the ground. Kentucky runs a jet sweep with Barion Brown for a 22-yard gain to set up a 1st & Goal.
This is another great call from Liam Coen. RB Ray Davis had carried the ball on 5-straight plays at 6.6 yards per rush. He was gashing the Bulldog defense, and naturally, State was weary of him getting another touch. They’re again playing Cover 3 and have eight defenders in the box.
Kentucky goes under center with a tight bunch set into the boundary and Brown a part of the bunch. This is a great use of formation to create space for Brown on the sweep. State has it’s defense shifted to the bunch side, meaning that there’s less defenders play-side to stop Brown. By going under center and having the sweep come from the bunch, the play is able to hit quicker, and Devin Leary can “hide” the handoff to Brown.
The goal is to get the defense to completely whiff on the sweep while the have their attention on the fake to the RB the other way. Marcus Banks isn’t fooled. He immediately attacks the sweep. But the single receiver to his side gets just enough of a block on him to let Brown get up-field. Ideally, you’d have CB Decamerion Richardson make the tackle, as he’s left unblocked on the play.
But to the point of the offense wanting the attention to be put on the RB, Richardson never even sees the sweep until it’s too late. His eyes are in the backfield, and he steps towards the run action. Richardson is a good tackler who can make stops in space, but he puts himself out of position here to allow for the big gain.
It wasn’t a bad night for the Bulldog defense. They’ve overall been much better since the bye week. But this is still a group with limitations that can cost them at times.