The Kentucky Wildcats travel into Starkville, Mississippi to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs this Saturday. Looking to keep their slim SEC East hopes alive, the Wildcats square off with the Bulldogs at 4:00 EST from Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. The game can be seen on the SEC Network.
The Wildcats have been the dark horse in the SEC East that many thought they would be coming into this season. They’ve improved on defense, have a starting quarterback they trust, and are slowly but surely getting their No. 1 RB going.
That running back, Benny Snell Jr., rushed for 117 yards two weeks ago in his best game of the season. He may finally be living up to the high expectations he was given at the start of the year. Besides that, the Johnson & Johnson hookup of QB Stephen Johnson and WR Garrett Johnson, which has garnered solid numbers.
Miss State’s own offense was a bit on the ropes until they pulled off an easy 35-10 win over the lowly BYU Cougars. It still wasn’t quite enough to get dual-threat QB Nick Fitzgerald back on track, as he now has seven interceptions to his 10 touchdowns and 55% completion percentage.
They hope to have a two-week streak of success on defense, where DL Jeffery Simmons has all the potential to one day be an All-SEC performer. The Bulldogs come into this home game as 10 ½-point favorites.
Miss State is an interesting case when it comes to the way their front seven plays against opposing running backs. One week they’re completely thwarting the opposition’s ground game, giving up only 29 yards versus BYU. And then there’s the week before that, against actual competition, where they gave up 244 to Kerryon Johnson and Auburn.
So where does Kentucky fit into all of this? Well, probably somewhere around where LSU or Louisiana Tech were. Both teams were crushed by Miss State, but LSU still averaged 4.6 YPC before having to resort to the pass. Louisiana Tech ran for over 150 yards, but had no back to compare to Snell Jr.
Don’t expect Miss State to be running away with this game early, as they’ve scored a measly 10 first quarter points over their last four games combined. That will allow the Wildcats enough time to establish the run game against a team giving up 193 yards per-game on the ground versus SEC opponents.
Miss State has also yet to play a dual-threat QB like Johnson this year. Jake Fromm of Georgia, Danny Etling of LSU, and Jarrett Stidham of Auburn are all strictly pocket-passers. This brings a new wrinkle the Bulldogs will have to adjust to.
For Kentucky, they’ll have their hands full with Miss State’s own dual-threat QB, Fitzgerald. He’s compiled 446 yards rushing, with 7 TDs on the ground and a 6.5 YPC average.
Combine that with RB Aeries Williams’ (5.4 YPC) production, and Kentucky will have to be way better than two weeks ago. They gave up over 200 yards to Missouri on the ground that Saturday. But luckily, they’ve only had two games in which opponents rushed over 62 yards against them, and are ranked 10th in the country against it.
If they’re able to slow down Fitzgerald and Williams’ feet, they may very well win this game outright. But they will have enough defensive presence to keep it to a one possession game either way.