Bulldogs open SEC play at home against Wildcats
Both Kentucky and Mississippi State are coming off losses they'd rather forget about and move on from. Despite a cranked up home stadium and a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were hoping to earn a W vs. Florida for the second year in a row but fell short in a 29-21 heartbreaker. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs dropped a tough 31-24 decision to Kansas State, which saw the Dogs also lose a fourth-quarter lead.
So both of these 2-1 teams should be breathing fire and wanting to get back on the gridiron and right some wrongs. While the Big Blue’s loss came in its opening game of SEC play, this will be the Bulldogs' conference lid-lifter for 2019.
Kentucky at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 21 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Mississippi State -6
When Kentucky Has the Ball
Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith had a very commendable performance in the first start of his Wildcat career in place of an injured Terry Wilson. After hitting on his first nine passes of the game, Sawyer ended up 23-of-35 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. But the big bugaboo was the fact that he had four turnovers, three of them interceptions in the second half. If he can cut down on the picks, the rest of his game looks pretty solid, making the right reads most of the time and having a hot hand.
Todd McShay called UK's front five on offense"the best offensive line in the SEC." Against that same Florida team that got nine sacks against Miami, the O-line allowed just one sack. Mississippi State’s defensive line is much less formidable. In fact, the Maroons are 10th in the SEC in run defense, allowing 140 yards per game on the ground, and dead last in sacks with four. The Wildcat running game gained 140 yards against the Gators. Look for more of an effort to get Kavosiey Smoke (yes, that's his name) established and bust out his first 100-yard game.
The Wildcats need to play a little more disciplined since they are 13th in the SEC and 119th nationally in penalty yards. Through three games they've committed 23 infractions for 224 yards. With all the cowbells cascading down on them, UK must stay on course and not face a lot of long down-and-distance situations.
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
Two weeks in a row has seen starting quarterback Tommy Stevens get off to a great start and then leave the game about halfway through due to injury. Freshman Garrett Shrader has been great in relief. But the Bulldog first-stringer claims to be "feeling better than I did at this time last week" so it seems likely that Stevens will be at the controls again. Just watch for head coach Joe Moorhead to be a little more conservative with QB running plays and hope to keep Stevens in for a full game… for once.
Other than a 76-yard burst by Josh Hammond with 33 seconds left, the Florida Gators gained just 62 yards on 26 carries against that Wildcat defense last week. Saturday's assignment will be much tougher as the Bulldogs feature Kylin Hill, who ranks fifth nationally with 144 rushing yards per game. If Hill gets established early and often, it will be a huge key to getting a W here for State.
The Mississippi State offense has done a great job of protecting the ball, with just two interceptions and two lost fumbles in three games. Their plus-five is good for seventh nationally in turnover margin. The Wildcats must get some "oskies" if they are going to pull the upset in Starkville. But get this -- my favorite stat so far – the last time a Bulldog running back lost a fumble was Nov. 18, 2017. In other words, there ain’t no Billy Sims on this team, I tell ya.
Think about the mindset of these teams from last week. Kentucky blew a 21-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Mississippi State blew a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter. The subsequent losses came on their respective home fields.
It seems whoever has the shorter memory and can put last week behind them the best will win. You like the team with more experience in situations like this. And you also like the team that has the crowd behind them a bit more as well. With the Wildcats still having to rely on a backup quarterback and the Bulldogs' knack of taking care of the ball better, I like Stark Vegas to be a better place to party after this week.
Prediction: Mississippi State 27, Kentucky 23
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
(Top photo courtesy of @HailStateFB)