Kentucky Versus Southern Miss Preview and Predictions

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03 September, 2016 Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Garrett Johnson (9) makes a catch during an NCAA football game between the Southern Miss Golden Eagles and Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, KY. (Photo by Caleb Lowndes/ Icon Sportswire)

Kentucky Versus Southern Miss

Hello everyone and welcome back to Last Word On College Football. After a long eight months, the 2017 season is finally upon us. The Kentucky Wildcats open the year on the road and are looking for revenge. Let’s get you ready for the big game with the Kentucky Versus Southern Miss Preview and Predictions.

Revenge For Last Season

Kentucky at Southern Miss- 4:00 CBS Sports Network

After coming close the two previous years, the Cats finally broke through making their first bowl game since 2010. Even though they lost to Georgia Tech 33-16 in the TaxSlayer Bowl, it is clear that Kentucky is on the rise in the SEC East. Heading into Mark Stoops‘ fifth season, expectations are as high as they have been in a decade. However, they must navigate a tough road opener to begin the 2017 season.

A year ago, the Cats 7-6 record was nearly derailed in the season’s first game. After UAB dropped its program in 2015, the university was left scrambling and quickly scheduled this series. After jumping out to a 35-10 lead, Kentucky gave up 34 unanswered points, losing 44-35. Time and time again, quarterback Nick Mullens and running back Ito Smith, carved up the Kentucky defense. Mullens finished with 258 yards and four total touchdowns. Smith rushed 36 times for 173 yards, both career highs, and a touchdown.

Mullens is gone, but Smith returns for the Golden Eagles. He is the only active player in FBS football to rush for over 3,000 yards and have 1,000 yards receiving. Furthermore, he has the potential to finish his career with over 4,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards. That would make him only one of nine players in college football history to accomplish this feat. Coach Jay Hopson will play two quarterbacks against Kentucky, Kwadra Griggs and Keon Howard. Kentucky’s much-hyped linebackers and secondary need to have a big day on Saturday.

A Familiar Face On the Opposing Sideline

Last season’s game was especially sweet for former Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. Stoops fired Dawson after the 2015 season, and he landed in Hattiesburg. Dawson knew Kentucky’s schemes on defense and exploited them time after time. Conversely, the Wildcat defense knew Dawson’s play-calling and tendencies but could do nothing to stop it.

Stoops has downplayed all week both the revenge aspect and coaching against his former coordinator, but deep down he wants to beat him. It will be interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Matt House schemes fare against Dawson.

Unleashing Kentucky’s High Powered Offense

On the other side of the ball, the Cats face a defense which ranked 21st in the nation in tackles for loss with 91. The Golden Eagles were also 28th in sacks with 34. They are going to try to get to the ball, and it will be up to Kentucky’s offensive line to keep them out of the backfield.

A season ago, the Cats rushed for only 90 yards against USM and current starting quarterback and running back Stephen Johnson and Benjamin Snell Jr. did not play. Look for Kentucky to come out and stretch the field with the passing game. The Cats’ talented group of receivers including Garrett Johnson, Kayaune Ross, and Tavin Richardson should have big games. Tight end C.J. Conrad will be a factor in the offense as well.

Once the Cats get the passing game rolling, look for ball control with Snell and Siheim King to protect the lead. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran will more than likely have some tricks for this first game of the year.

Prediction Time

It is a rare occurrence when a Power Five program pays a visit to a Conference USA school. However, that is what’s happening in Hattiesburg on Saturday. M.M. Roberts Stadium will be packed in hopes of seeing a second straight Golden Eagles win. The Cats may have as many as nine true freshmen see playing time on Saturday. While it isn’t “The Swamp”,  playing your first college game on the road can be daunting.

Look for Kentucky to come out firing downfield to stretch the defense then practice ball control football with Snell. Stoops has stated he would like to get backup and former starting quarterback Drew Barker some playing time. Barker tossed four touchdown passes in last year’s game. Whether that happens remains to be seen.

If the Cats can find a way to slow down Ito, this could be a blowout. The point spread on the game is 10, which seems a little high. The three previous games between the schools have been high scoring and that seems likely here. Stoops can ill afford a stumble out of the gate for a second straight season. That won’t be the case this time as Kentucky pulls out a tough road win and the school’s 600th all-time victory.

Kentucky 35  Southern Miss 27

Thanks for checking out the Kentucky Versus Southern Miss Preview and Predictions. Next week the Cats return home for the first ever game at Kroger Field against Eastern Kentucky.

Main Photo

03 September, 2016 Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Garrett Johnson (9) makes a catch during an NCAA football game between the Southern Miss Golden Eagles and Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, KY. (Photo by Caleb Lowndes/ Icon Sportswire)

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