LEXINGTON, Ky. --- In this edition of "Coach's Corner," Kentucky defensive coordinator John Goodner talks about the Wildcats' preparation for Saturday's game at Mississippi State...
What do expect from the Mississippi State offense on Saturday?
"The first thing we've got to do is stop the run. You know, Jackie Sherrill, back when he was with (Texas) A&M and we were at Baylor, he was always a big run guy; always had big running backs, always wanted to play to his defense. And I don't think it's any different now. They've had a little more trouble running the football than they normally do. They led the conference last year, and they've not been too good this year (12th in the SEC, 108 yards per game, 3.0 yards per carry). But they're getting some linemen back who have been banged up, their big running back (Dicenzo Miller) is healthy now for the first time. So I think they're going to come out and try to run the ball. We've got to be ready for that."
The Bulldogs are traditionally one of the more physically impressive teams in the conference. Does that concern you with the depth issues you're facing and having some undersized guys playing out of position?
"No doubt. We're just not very big, period, and they're huge. Their line has several guys around 320. Their tight ends are 6-4, 6-5, around 250, 260. The fullback (Darnell Jones, 5-11, 247) is a really big kid. Heck, the quarterback (Wayne Madkin) is 6-4, 230. So he's bigger than most of the people we've got. They're a physical team. That's what they want to do, come out and make it a physical game, try to wear us down. That's what we've been telling our guys all week, that we've got to step up and play more physical, otherwise we won't have a chance."
One of the places you can probably match up physically is the front four. How important is it for you to win the battle up front?
"Very. Those are the people we went into the season thinking was the strongest part of our defense, and it still is. They've got to play well. Dennis (Johnson) and Chris (Demaree) have to give us a big game against the run, not just the pass. Having Dewayne (Robertson) back will help a lot. He's got to have a good game, too, control the middle for us. Same thing for Jeremy Caudill and Derrick Johnson. They've got to take some of the heat off our smaller linebackers, that kind of thing. And when we get them in a passing situation, they've got to get some heat on the quarterback. I think this is a game we've got a chance to rush the passer. When we get those third downs that have bothered us all year, we've got to have some pressure to help our secondary out."
What's your impressions of Madkin?
"He's a good player, a big, strong kid. What really worries you is their play-action passing. They're very good at that. Our corners have to hold up because they run the ball so much, and they make good run fakes. They run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, then they put that run fake in there, the running back dives over the top, and the next thing you know the quarterback's trying to get a deep shot on you. Our secondary guys have to be ready to play pass every play. And then our safeties have to be smart guys and read run or pass. This really worries me because the play-action pass is probably the hardest thing to defend in college football. When we get them in third-and-long, spread out with four wides, we feel like we match up pretty good there, but it's those times when you're not real sure what they're going to do --- and you've seen so much run --- that concerns me."
How would you describe your secondary's mental frame right now?
"They've struggled, but we've talked to them all the time about it being a team game, a team effort. Your good secondaries always have the pass rush. A pass rush makes a whole lot of difference in how long you've got to cover guys, and we've been a little bit inconsistent in that regard. What we're hoping to do is cover until we get there, and hopefully we get there a little sooner. I tell you this: our DBs are glad to see No. 63 back.
How does getting Dewayne back in the lineup help the team's mindset?
"Oh, it's huge. It's a big psychological plus for our football team. Just seeing him out there gives everybody a shot in the arm. They know how good a player he is and what he means to our overall scheme."
What's the status of David Johnson (hamstring) and Leonard Burress (concussion)?
"David's going to start for us and play a bunch. He's one of those guys who's good against the run, so he's coming back at a good time. Leonard's been cleared to play, so he's going to play a bunch. If he can walk, he's going to play. [Laughs]"
So it was a good time for the off week?:
"Couldn't have been better. It's given us a chance to get back some guys we've got to have to play a team like Mississippi State."