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Kentucky Travels To Starkville

Saturday night under the lights in Starkville the Kentucky football team tries to break a three-game slide. In order to accomplish that feat Mark Stoops will have to do two things he’s yet to do as Wildcats head coach. We’ll tell you what they are, look at both teams, and give you a prediction as Kentucky travels to Starkville.

Looking To Break A Losing Streak

Finally Putting It Together

It’s always hard to focus on positives in a loss but the Wildcat offense has its best performance of the year against Tennessee. Devin Leary looked like the quarterback the Big Blue Nation was expecting all along throwing for 373 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. It’s the most yards he’s thrown for since gaining 404 against Wake Forest in 2021.

Having receivers Barion Brown and Tayvion Robinson recover from injury certainly helped. Although, it was Dane Key who had the biggest game with seven catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Another strong effort against Mississippi State will do wonders in getting a win.

Scouting The Bulldogs

Under coach Zach Arnett Mississippi State heads into Saturday’s game with a 4-4 record and 1-4 in the SEC. Their lone conference win came at Arkansas 7-3 two weeks ago. Last week they dropped a 27-13 contest at Auburn. Arnett is in his first full season after leading the team to a win over Illinois in last year’s ReliaQuest Bowl following the death of Mike Leach.

One big thing that’s changed in 2023 is a move away from the Leach’s “Air-Raid” to a more pro-style attack. The result has been mixed at best. Quarterback Will Rogers, who threw for over 10,000 yards and 82 touchdowns in his first three years, has only thrown for 200 yards twice. Furthermore, he hasn’t played since October 7th due to a shoulder injury. Vanderbilt transfer and noted Wildcat nemesis  Mike Wright has started the last two games.

As if Kentucky didn’t have enough to prepare for on Saturday a third quarterback, Chris Parson, could see some playing time. He was recruited by the Wildcats and originally committed to Florida State before ending up in Starkville.

Jo’quavious Marks is the leading rusher with 500 yards, but he missed the Auburn game due to injury. Wright is the second leading rusher with 261 while Seth Davis has 204. Zavion Thomas is the top receiver with 21 catches.

A Formidable Duo

Over on the other side of the ball, the Mississippi State defense is led by a pair of talented linebackers. Jett Johnson and Nathaniel Watson are both “Super Seniors” back for a final year of college football.

So far this year Johnson has 84 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, four sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Watson leads the SEC with 7. 5 sacks to go along with 80 tackles, 9.5 for a loss, and an interception. Overall Mississippi State ranks 53rd in the nation giving up 135 yards rushing per game. In addition, they rank 88th in pass defense allowing 238 yards and game, and 68th in scoring giving up nearly 26 per game.

Now that we’ve previewed both teams as Kentucky travels to Starkville let’s look at a possible Swan Song between the two schools.

Another End Of An Era

Last week we talked about how after 2024 Kentucky and Tennessee likely won’t play every year. Saturday night’s game marks the end of another long-time series. The Wildcats and Bulldogs have played every year since 1990 as each team’s fixed opponent from the east and west respectively. When the league adds Oklahoma and Texas the two-division format is gone and at least for one year they won’t play.

Overall the series couldn’t be any closer as both teams have won 25 times. The home team has won the last seven games and the Wildcats haven’t won in Starkville since 2008. Of course, playing down there is always a unique environment thanks to those cowbells which are allowed when the ball isn’t in play. A year ago Kentucky pulled out a 10-point win.

Who Wins On Saturday?

As we mentioned earlier it’s Stoops’ last chance to end two different streaks. He’s never won in Starkville and most of the games haven’t been close. Going back to his first year in 2013 the Cats lost 28-22. In fact, since then the final margins have been 26, 38, 15, and 14 points. In addition, it’s his last chance to win a road game against an SEC West opponent. All-time Stoops is 0-11 versus the West and with the divisions going away he has one more opportunity to get off the schneid.

On paper, this looks like Kentucky’s best chance for a road win as the Bulldogs have struggled in 2023. Over the last three games, the Wildcat defense has allowed an average of 473 yards and 41 points per game. However, Mississippi State has only scored more than 24 points once against a Power Five team this year. Look for a back-and-forth contest that the Wildcats pull out in the end as Stoops breaks his streaks and UK gets bowl-eligible for an eighth straight year.

Kentucky 24-20

Thanks for checking out our preview at Last Word On College Football as Kentucky travels to Starkville. We’ll be back after the game with a complete wrap-up.

Photo Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

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