Cats Need A Victory
When Kentucky and Mississippi State kick off at 7:30 on Saturday night in a game televised by the SEC Network it’s the epitome of a must-win game for Mark Stoops’ team. A week ago the Cats blew a second-half lead losing 42-41 to Ole Miss in overtime. The defeat dropped UK to 0-2 for the first time since 2016. If they want to salvage a good season they have to win on Saturday. Can they pull it off? Let’s look at both teams and give a prediction with our Mississippi State at Kentucky preview.
Looking For Answers
To say 2020 hasn’t started the way the Cats hoped is a major understatement. Many thought the Cats were in for a big season and so far it hasn’t happened. One place that hasn’t been an issue is on offense. Against Ole Miss, the Cats had 559 yards including 408 on the ground. In addition, they held the ball for over 36 minutes. Christopher Rodriguez led the way with 133 yards and two touchdowns. In fact, Rodriguez was the highest graded back in all of football last week.
Kentucky skill positions in Week 5:
▪️ QB Terry Wilson – 92.0 (2nd)
▪️ RB Chris Rodriguez Jr – 89.0 (1st)
▪️ WR Josh Ali – 89.8 (2nd) pic.twitter.com/R0wPmDyR9A
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 6, 2020
While the offense has been good the defense, especially the secondary has struggled. A week after being carved up by Bo Nix of Auburn Matt Corral did much the same. Against one of the best secondaries in 2019 Corral hit on 24 of 29 passes for 320 yards and four touchdowns. For the season the Cats rank 51st out of 74 teams giving up 276 yards a game. Furthermore, they are allowing a whopping 14 yards per completion, fifth-worst in college football.
One other area where the Cats are struggling is turnovers. In 2020 Kentucky is tied for last with a -4 differential. They have turned it over four times and have forced none. An interesting note one of the teams tied with them is Mississippi State. Looking at the numbers helps explain why Kentucky is 0-2.
Continuing on with our Mississippi State at Kentucky preview let’s now look at the Bulldogs and what is a homecoming for their head coach.
Back Where It Began
Saturday’s game is a homecoming for Mike Leach as he returns to Lexington. As offensive coordinator under Hal Mumme, the two helped implement the “Air Raid” offense into the SEC. The pair helped quarterback Tim Couch set numerous school and conference records in Leach’s two years at Kentucky. As a result, Couch finished fourth in the 1998 Heisman vote and became the number one pick of the expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999.
Scouting The Bulldogs
Mississippi State comes into Saturday’s game with a 1-1 record, just what most experts thought. However very few thought the win would be against LSU and the loss against Arkansas. This version of the “Air Raid” is headed by quarterback K.J. Costello who leads the SEC in most passing categories with 79 completions in 119 attempts for 936 yards. His six touchdowns rank fourth in the league. However, 623 of those yards and five of the touchdowns came in the 44-34 upset of the Tigers. While he did throw for 313 yards against Arkansas he did have three interceptions.
Through two games the Bulldogs already have three players close to 150 yards receiving. They are led by Osirus Mitchell who is averaging 20 yards per catch and has two scores. While they don’t run the ball as much as previous Mississippi State teams you have to watch out for Kylin Hill and Jo’quavious Marks. A season ago Hill ran for three touchdowns against Kentucky.
The Last Time They Met And Series History
This will be the 48th time Kentucky and Mississippi State have met on the gridiron. As each team’s permanent opponent from the other division, they’ve played every year since 1990. Overall the Bulldogs lead the series 24-23, however they’ve won nine of the last 12. A season ago Willie Gay Jr. intercepted Sawyer Smith’s first pass returning it 53 yards for a touchdown. MSU built a 21-3 halftime lead eventually winning 28-13 in Starkville. For the game, the Cats had 386 total yards but only found the endzone on a Kavosiey Smoke run. In addition, they struggled with the kicking game making only two of four field-goal attempts. Sounds familiar to True Blue Fans doesn’t it?
The last time they played in Lexington the Cats put together one of their best efforts of the season in dismantling MSU 28-7. Benny Snell scored all four touchdowns and in the process broke the school record. Kentucky’s won the last two at home against the Bulldogs and both have been night games. If you are a Cat fan looking for a trend there you go.
Who Wins On Saturday?
Continuing our Mississippi State at Kentucky preview it’s now prediction time. In order for the Cats to avoid an 0-3 start, they have to play their brand of football. That means controlling the clock with the run game and avoiding turnovers. However, Kentucky will be without one of the biggest weapons on Saturday. Stoops announced Smoke is out for a few weeks with a rib injury. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran likes to use multiple backs in his schemes. As a result, look for Travis Tisdale or freshman Jutahn McClain to see some carries.
On the other side of the ball, you wonder which Bulldog team shows up. The team that beat LSU or the one that looked really bad against Arkansas. Now that they’ve played two games in the SEC the opposing coaches now have the video to watch. Either way, it’s going to be a stern test for the Kentucky secondary. As we mentioned earlier this is a must-win for Kentucky. To start 0-3 with games against Tennessee and Georgia coming up, there’s not much hope for salvaging a good season. Currently, we have the Cats playing Oklahoma in the Liberty Bowl. We have MSU playing Kansas State in the Texas Bowl. Four years ago Kentucky turned their year around with a win over Mississippi State and they do it again on Saturday.
Kentucky 31 Mississippi State 28
Thanks for checking out our Mississippi State at Kentucky preview here at Last Word On College Football. We’ll be back with a recap after the game and then get you ready for the battle against Tennessee.