Josh Robinson, RB
Junior quarterback Dak Prescott is the Heisman Trophy favorite midway through the season, but tailback Josh Robinson also will play an integral role in No. 1 MSU’s hopes for a victory in Lexington, Kentucky.
Kentucky is ninth overall in the Southeastern Conference in total defense. The Wildcats rank third in the SEC in passing yards per game and are fifth nationally with 12 interceptions. But the Wildcats rank 11th in the league in rushing yards per game.
Enter Prescott and Robinson, the driving forces behind a ground game that has posted 1,586 yards through six games, good for second in the conference. Robinson is second in the SEC with 689 rushing yards, and he is poised to inherit the conference lead from Georgia tailback Todd Gurley, who is suspended indefinitely. Robinson also has eight touchdowns. Prescott (eight touchdowns) is fifth in the league with 576 rushing yards.
Against Kentucky, Robinson should get plenty of opportunities against a defense that has allowed a 100-yard rusher in three of its four conference games. LSU rushed for a season-high 303 yards and averaged 6.49 yards per carry last week in a 41-3 victory against Kentucky.
WHAT MUST IMPROVE
Though it hasn’t been a consistent problem this season, the Bulldogs can’t afford another four-turnover performance. In a 38-23 win against No. 2 Auburn two weeks ago, then-No. 3 MSU worked around turnovers on four-straight possessions in the second quarter, miscues that turned a 21-0 lead into a 21-13 advantage. While only two of the turnovers — interceptions from quarterback Dak Prescott — were committed by the offense (the other two came on special teams), cleaning up the mistakes was part of coach Dan Mullen’s focus in the bye week.
“We’ve got a ton of weaknesses to work on,” Mullen said. “Too many mistakes, too man turnovers. We will get that cleaned up.”
STAT TO WATCH
The responsibility of gaining yards on the ground will fall to Prescott and Robinson. MSU could follow the blueprint LSU used last week against Kentucky. The Tigers ran the ball on 70 percent of their snaps, and freshman Leonard Fournette had a career game with 127 yards. Earlier this season, South Carolina tailback Mike Davis (183 yards) and Florida’s Matt Jones (157) had season-best totals.
LSU gashed the Wildcats for four runs of more than 20 yards and three of more than 30 yards. MSU is third in the SEC with 16 runs of more than 20 yards and fourth in the league with six carries of 30 yards or more.
Jameon Lewis, WR
MSU earned back-to-back victories against No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 2 Auburn without one of its most dependable weapons. Lewis, who entered his senior season as the SEC’s leading returning wide receiver, was scratched from the lineup minutes before the 48-31 victory against Texas A&M due to a lower leg injury, the same injury that kept him out of the Auburn game.
Against Kentucky a year ago, Lewis caught seven passes for 53 yards and a touchdown, ran once for a 22-yard touchdown, and had a 17-yard pass for a touchdown. “You’re talking about us getting back one of our most explosive players with the ball in his hands,” Mullen said of Lewis.
STRENGTHS VS. WEAKNESSES
For MSU’s offense, the strengths remain varied. The Bulldogs are one of the most balanced offense in the country. MSU has rushed for 1,586 yards, second in the SEC, and passed for 1,592 yards. MSU averages 529.7 yards per game, which is 15 yards better than any other SEC team.
Kentucky has been terrific against the pass, though not one of its previous four SEC opponents — Florida, LSU, Vanderbilt, Kentucky — is in the top half of the league in passing. The Wildcats have struggled against the run, which should give the Bulldogs an advantage up front.
— Brandon Walker