Kentucky Versus Mississippi State Preview
Following a much needed bye week the Kentucky Wildcats travel to Starkville for a battle against Mississippi State. Mark Stoops‘ club currently sits at 5-1 and are on the cusp of a special season. In order to keep the momentum going they are going to have to pull out a tough road win on Saturday. With that in mind let’s get to the business of the Kentucky Versus Mississippi State Preview.
Winning Close Games
There is an old saying in sports that “good teams find a way to win close games.” With Kentucky that has certainly been the case in 2017. Their last two wins have been by less than a touchdown including a 40-34 nail biter against Missouri when Drew Lock’s Hail Mary fell short.
In fact it was the third straight contest that went down to the last play. Against Eastern Michigan Mike Edwards intercepted a pass on the game’s final play to preserve a 24-20 victory. The third game was the bad loss to Florida when the Cats only had 10 defenders on the field for the Gators’ game winning score.
One criticism of this team is they have played up or down to their competition. With five straight against SEC teams plus a rivalry game with Louisville they can ill afford to have an off night.
Getting Back On Track
After trouncing LSU 37-7 Mississippi State was off to a 3-0 start in 2017. However following that win the Bulldogs were blown out twice, 31-3 at Georgia and 49-10 at Auburn. Dan Mullen‘s club got back on track last week with a 35-10 win over a bad BYU squad. On the season Mississippi State currently sits at 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the SEC.
The Bulldog offense starts with Nick Fitzgerald. For the season the junior has thrown for 1.024 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In addition he has run for 446 yards and seven more scores.
On QB Nick Fitzgerald: “He’s just so physical. … A tough runner, puts a lot of pressure on you."
— Jen Smith (@jenheraldleader) October 16, 2017
One big improvement from last season for the Bulldogs is the running game. So far in 2017 Aeris Williams has rushed for 523 yards and two touchdowns. The emergence of Williams has taken some of the work load off Fitzgerald.
On the other side of the ball the defense is led by nose tackle Jeffrey Simmons. The six foot four 301 pound junior has three and a half sacks and four tackles for loss in 2017. Todd Grantham’s defense ranks fourth in the country against the pass and 10th overall. The Bulldogs are not nearly as good against the run which plays to Kentucky’s strength.
Looking Into the Crystal Ball
It is prediction time in this Kentucky Versus Mississippi State Preview. Over the last couple of years dual threat quarterbacks have given the Kentucky defense fits. From Joshua Dobbs to Lamar Jackson to Jalen Hurts all have had great games against the Wildcats. In fact under Stoops Kentucky is 3-9 against dual threat quarterbacks but are winners of three of the last five.
The Wildcats did a good job of keeping Fitzgerald in check last season’s 40-38 win. Austin Macginnis nailed a 51 yard field goal as time expired to win the game. The victory was the first in eight tries against a Mullen coached team. Kentucky last won in Starkville in 2008 in this battle of permanent SEC rivals.
Look for the Wildcats to do what they have done all season, try to establish the run behind Benjamin Snell Jr. Once that happens that opens up the downfield passing game with Garrett Johnson and Tavin Richardson. The X-factor for the Wildcats could be Lynn Bowden. The talented freshman is getting more and more involved in the offense each week.
Matt House’s defense has to stop Fitzgerald’s ability to run and force him to throw the ball. The Wildcats are back at full strength this week with the return of Jordan Jones. The All-SEC linebacker injured his shoulder against Eastern Kentucky and has missed the last four games.
Mark Stoops said Jordan Jones will be eased back in this week. He's still on track to play Saturday.
— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) October 16, 2017
Mississippi State is a ten point favorite on Saturday which seems a little high. A win on Saturday combined with the upcoming schedule could have the Cats 9-1 heading to Georgia on November 18th. The Cats are on the verge of making the Top 25 and a win would surely put them in.
With the constant ringing of the cowbells winning in Starkville is never easy for an opposing team. This looks to be another close game with the home standing Bulldogs pulling out a win.
Mississippi State 28 Kentucky 24
Thanks for checking out the Kentucky Versus Mississippi State Preview here at Last Word On College Football. Next week the Wildcats play host to Tennessee and who knows if Butch Jones will still be the coach by then.