Amidst a three-game losing streak, the Kentucky Wildcats are in need of a win. They’ll try to do so this Saturday at a venue they haven’t won at in 15 seasons, in Starkville against Mississippi State. Kentucky has lost six straight games in this building.
Given the negative streaks working against them, this year is a good opportunity for Kentucky to break both, as Mississippi State is one of the worst teams in the SEC. The Bulldogs are just 1-4 in the SEC, with their lone win coming against an Arkansas team that has yet to win in conference play.
That said, road wins in the SEC are no easy task.
Let’s look and see what Kentucky needs to do to overcome the cowbells and leave Starkville with the win.
Improved Run Defense
Unlike Mississippi State teams of the past, coached by the late Mike Leach, the Bulldogs do not run an air raid offense. Instead, they are much more balanced and even favor the run for the most part. In fact, the Bulldogs have had more rushing attempts than passing attempts in six of their eight games.
Already favoring the run, the Bulldogs are not certain about which quarterback will play this weekend between Will Rogers (shoulder injury), Mike Wright, and Chris Parson.
The Bulldogs also have a question mark at running back with starter Jo’Quavious Marks dealing with a leg injury that kept him from playing last week. Marks has been one of the SEC’s top backs, rushing for 500 yards and four touchdowns on 57 carries (5.2 avg).
However, backups Seth Davis (6.4 yards per rush) and Jeffery Pittman (4.1 yards per rush) have shown they can carry the workload. Those two ran for 113 yards on 17 carries (6.6 avg) last week vs. Auburn.
Kentucky’s primary defensive focus will be to stop the run. For much of the season, that has been a strength for the Wildcats, keeping five of their eight opponents under 100 rushing yards.
However, the other three opponents have all come in the last three games, ultimately resulting in three straight losses. The worst came last week against Tennessee, who ran for 254 yards.
Entering the season, Kentucky’s front seven looked to be one of the best in program history. While that expectation hasn’t been met, the talent is there, and they need to prove it this weekend.
Passing Game Sustaining Momentum
While Kentucky suffered a loss to Tennessee this past weekend, the passing offense had its best performance of the season. Passing for a total of 372 yards against the Vols, the Wildcats recorded their highest passing output of the season, nearly doubling their next closest against an SEC opponent (Vanderbilt, 205 passing yards).
The question now is, can they carry the momentum?
Looking at Mississippi State, they are 11th in the SEC in passing defense, giving up nearly 240 passing yards per game. Even worse, they allow their opponents to complete 73% of their passes, the worst in the SEC.
That said, the opportunity for Kentucky to succeed in the passing game is there and will not only be key for this game, but also for the rest of the season.
Win Third Down
In terms of yards per game, Mississippi State has the third-worst offense in the SEC. That said, Kentucky is just one spot ahead of them. Add that both teams are in the bottom 10 in the country in plays per game and towards the bottom in seconds per play, and it is very likely that it will not just be slow scoring but one of the slowest games in the country this weekend.
In such a slow and low-scoring contest, every possession is valuable and important. Each team will look to limit the other’s opportunities, and that starts on third downs. Mississippi State converts on third downs at the second-worst rate of all Power Five Schools at 30.9%, ahead of only Iowa (26.4%).
However, that is a weakness of the Kentucky defense, which has allowed opponents to convert 43.6% of the time. In a battle of weaknesses, Kentucky needs to find the edge.
Kentucky Wildcats (5-3, 2-3 SEC) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (4-4, 1-4 SEC)
Time/Date: 7:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 4th, 2023
Location: Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, MS
TV Channel: SEC Network
Announcers: Tom Hart, Cole Cubelic, Alyssa Lang
Online Stream: WatchESPN and the ESPN app.
Radio: Tom Leach and Jeff Piecoro have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Satellite Radio: XM Channel 203, Sirius Channel 98, Internet Channel 966
replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Rosters: UK | MSU
Stats To Know: UK | MSU
Covers.com Weather Forecast:
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has Kentucky listed as a 5-point favorite. However, ESPN’s matchup predictor has Kentucky as a slight underdog, giving the Wildcats a 46% chance to win.
Predictions: TeamRankings has Kentucky coming away with a 24-21 win, with DRatings.com also picking the Cats in a 27-23 victory. Given the expected slow pace of the game, along with the struggles of the Mississippi State defense and the improvement of Kentucky’s pass offense, I pick the Wildcats to win this game 24-17.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.