Mississippi State hosts Kentucky Saturday in an SEC cross-divisional battle of two teams both searching to become bowl eligible. A victory for the Bulldogs would extend the school record streak of bowl games to six, while a win for the Wildcats would put them one step closer to snapping a four-year stretch without a post-season appearance. Should UK find a way to upset Mississippi State, the Wildcats would also snap a six-game losing streak in the series, and would hand Dan Mullen his first career loss to Kentucky as a head coach since taking over in 2009.
Though the series has been one-sided in recent seasons, it is tied 21-21 all-time, and last year’s 45-31 shootout in Lexington was closer than the final score indicated. The No. 1 Bulldogs (playing the first game in program history as the nation’s top-ranked team) put the game away with a 61-yard onside kick return touchdown with 2:22 remaining in the contest.
Kentucky at Mississippi State
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Mississippi State -11
Three Things to Watch
1. If Mississippi State Wins the First Half, the Bulldogs Will Win the Game
Last week, Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel completed two touchdown passes in the first quarter of last week’s game against Mississippi State that gave Tech a 14-0 lead. However, State responded with four scoring drives and pulled ahead on a two-yard TD run by quarterback Dak Prescott with 0:57 left to play in the second quarter, which gave MSU a 24-17 edge at halftime. It was the 47th time head coach Dan Mullen’s team had led at the half during his tenure, and the Bulldogs are 46-1 since 2009 when taking a lead into the locker room.
2. Patrick Towles is Heating Up
In last season’s meeting between Mississippi State and Kentucky in Lexington, Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles set a career-high with 390 passing yards during a 24-for-43 performance in which he threw two touchdowns. It was only the second time in his career that Towles had surpassed 300 passing yards in a game. Towles also set a career high with 76 rushing yards (and a personal-best 48-yarder), 23 carries and two rushing touchdowns.
After the Wildcats came up short against Mississippi State, Towles struggled and didn’t throw for 300 yards in a game until a 329-yard performance Oct. 3 against Eastern Kentucky in which he also tossed three touchdowns and two interceptions. The following week against Auburn, Towles completed 27 of 44 passes (which included several drops by receivers) for 359 yards and an interception, giving the junior 300-plus passing yards in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.
Over his last three games, including a 22-for-27, 249-yard, two-touchdown performance against Missouri Sept. 26, Towles has completed 78 of 113 passing attempts (69.0 percent) for 937 yards (312.3 per game) and five touchdowns with three interceptions.
3. Another Record-Setting Performance for Dak Prescott
Following a two-touchdown passing performance last week that pushed his seasons totals to 1,700 passing yards and 11 touchdowns on 148-for-225 passing, Dak Prescott put himself into elite company among SEC quarterbacks. The senior signal caller joined Tim Tebow (who was coached by Dan Mullen at Florida) and Johnny Manziel as the only QBs in league history to throw for 50 or more touchdowns and run for 30 or more TDs in a career.
Prescott also extended his school-record streak of consecutive passes without an interception (one of 23 school records Prescott currently owns, five of which were set earlier this season) to 274, which is the longest active streak in the nation and is 51 shy of former Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson’s SEC record of 325.
In three seasons since Mark Stoops was hired as the head coach at Kentucky, the Wildcats have improved the talent level on the roster, as well as production on the field, which has helped the team improve from 2-10 in 2013 to 5-7 last season and 4-2 this year. However, UK has yet to get over the hump and gain bowl eligibility.
With quarterback Patrick Towles leading the offense and Boom Williams offering explosive playmaking ability out of the backfield, the Wildcats can score against a Mississippi State defense that ranks No. 9 in the SEC and No. 47 in the country in total defense with an average of 368.4 yards per game.
However, Kentucky’s defense is a near mirror image at 374.8 yards allowed per contest, which ranks No. 10 in the conference and No. 54 nationally and the Bulldogs have more offensive weapons in record-setting quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receivers De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Ross. Therefore, expect MSU to outscore Kentucky and secure the sixth consecutive bowl bid for Mullen and the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Kentucky 24
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.