Cats Look To Finish Strong
Following a much needed bye week, the Kentucky football team looks to close 2021 with a splash. Currently sitting at 6-1 Mark Stoops’ squad has a chance for the best season in over 40 years. In order to do that they’ll have to win at a place where they’ve had no recent success. Let’s look at both teams, give you some history, and predict the outcome with our Kentucky versus Mississippi State preview.
Getting The Momentum Back
Even though the Cats lost to top ranked Georgia, there were some positives. The Wildcat offense scored two touchdowns against arguably the best defense in the country. In fact the Cats managed to score more than anyone else has on Kirby Smart’s team. Of course coaches usually don’t point to moral victories but against a Georgia team that’s on another level it’s something to hang your hat on.
Against Mississippi State, the Cats need to be firing on all cylinders starting with quarterback Will Levis. The UK signal caller completed 32 of 42 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns. That coming off the heels of his five touchdown performance in the win against LSU that garnered him player of the week honors. For Kentucky to win he has to have a big game. From all accounts it looks like Levis has another weapon back with the return of Josh Ali, who’s missed the last couple of games due to a leg injury.
It doesn’t happen often but the “Big Blue Wall” struggled against the Georgia defense. The conference’s leading rusher Chris Rodriguez was held to only seven yards on the ground on seven carries. Furthermore the entire Wildcat attack mustered 51 yards averaging less than two yards a carry. A return to form only enhances Kentucky’s chances of winning.
Continuing our Kentucky versus Mississippi State preview let’s take a closer look at the home team.
Scouting The Bulldogs
Mississippi State comes into Saturday’s matchup with a 4-3 record. A week ago they easily beat Vanderbilt 45-6. In addition earlier this year they went into College Station and knocked of Texas A&M 26-22. The talent is there, they are just looking for consistency.
When you’re a talking about a Mike Leach’s coached club the first thing that comes to mind is the “Air Raid” offense. While they struggled last season the MSU head man went out and got players who better fit the system. Leading the attack is quarterback Will Rogers. The sophomore has completed nearly 74 percent of his passes for 2,546 yards and 18 touchdowns. In addition he’s only had seven interceptions in 396 attempts. In fact he leads the SEC in nearly every passing category.
Behind Rogers the Bulldogs have two very good running backs in Jo’quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson. Between the two they’ve rushed for 401 yards and four scores. However they are second and third on the team in receptions with 48 and 39 respectively. Rogers favorite target is wide receiver Makai Polk. The former California transfer leads the league with 58 receptions and has found the end zone six times. Another big target is Jaden Walley, who has 30 receptions and four touchdowns on the season.
You don’t normally use the words Leach and strong defense in the same sentence, however in 2021 that’s certainly the case. So far in seven games the Bulldogs rank ninth in the country allowing only 97 yards per game on the ground. Of course the running game is Kentucky’s strong point so that’s an area to watch.
Continuing on with our Kentucky versus Mississippi State preview is a look at the rivalry between the two schools.
Saturday’s matchup is the 49th meeting all-time between the Cats and the Bulldogs. As it stands right now the two schools are tied at 24 wins apiece. MSU and Kentucky are each other’s permanent SEC opponent. As a result the two schools have played every year since 1990. Mississippi State’s longest winning streak is seven from 2009-2015 while Kentucky’s longest streak is eight which lasted from 1958-1990. Of course they didn’t play ever year at that point and includes a 1976 forfeit by the Bulldogs. State has won five straight in Starkville while the Cats have won three in a row in Lexington. As you can see the rivalry is one of streaks.
Last Time They Met
A season ago in Lexington Kentucky played one of their best defensive games. Headed by six interceptions the Cats dominated the Bulldogs 24-2. The much hyped return of Leach to Lexington turned out to be much ado about nothing. In fact the game marked the first time in history a Leach coached team failed to score an offensive point. MSU’s only points came when a snap went over Max Duffy‘s head and into the end zone leading to a safety.
On a night where Brad White’s group dominated, the offense struggled. In fact they only gained 157 yards for the game, 84 on the ground and 73 through the air. Furthermore it was Kentucky’s lowest output of the season as they gained more yards (175) against Alabama. Two years ago the Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-3 lead and eventually won 28-13 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score.
As we wrap up our Kentucky Versus Mississippi State preview it’s prediction time.
Who Wins On Saturday?
If you’ve been following our Kentucky coverage all year we’ve talked about Stoops checking off boxes with each accomplishment. Saturday under the lights he’s got a chance for another one. He’s never won in Starkville going 0-4 so far. In fact Kentucky hasn’t won down there since 2008. By far this is his best chance to chalk up a win. The Cats will need a big game from Rodriguez and Wan’Dale Robinson and limit turnovers, something that’s really hurt them this year.
On the other side of the ball the UK secondary has to be up for the challenge. They usually let teams dink and dunk the ball down the field which is what MSU does often. However the Cats are great at preventing the big play. In order to win they’ll have to do that Saturday night. A win against Mississippi State keeps the Cats squarely in the mix for a major bowl game. Currently Last Word has them playing Wake Forest in the Peach Bowl. This is the toughest game remaining on the schedule and the most hostile environment thanks to all the cowbells. MSU opened as a two point favorite and it quickly shifted slightly toward the Cats. This should be a back and forth affair however in the end UK finds a way to win continuing its special season.
That’s our Kentucky Versus Mississippi State preview here at Last Word On College Football. We’ll be back after the game with a recap and look ahead to next week’s game against Tennessee.