Kentucky has beaten Middle Tennessee in both of the team’s two meetings in Lexington, and the Wildcats have a chance to run the streak to three on Saturday at Kroger Field. Kentucky could definitely use the win to reverse its momentum, while Middle Tennessee comes into this Week 12 matchup having won its last four games.
Middle Tennessee is now officially bowl eligible after its win over UTEP on Saturday, its sixth FBS win in 2018. The Blue Raiders have been playing very well since the back half of October, including putting up 48 points over the Miners on Saturday. Brent Stockstill led the way through the air, passing for 352 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-for-40 effort. Chaton Mobley paced the ground game with 53 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, but the real star was Stockstill as he piloted the Blue Raiders to their fourth win in as many games.
Kentucky, meanwhile, started its 2018 season 7-1 and reached the No. 9 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings on Nov. 6 after a one-point win against Missouri. After two straight losses to SEC East champion Georgia and Tennessee, however, the Wildcats are looking to pick up the pieces and rebound in the final two weeks of the season. The Wildcats mustered just seven points at Neyland Stadium, with Terry Wilson throwing for just 172 yards and one touchdown. Benny Snell, who has punished nearly every defense he’s seen this year, was held in check to the tune of just 81 yards on 20 carries.
Middle Tennessee at Kentucky
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network Alternate
Spread: Kentucky -16
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Snell bounce back?
After a 169-yard game with a touchdown against Vanderbilt in Week 8, Benny Snell has been held under 74 yards per game in his last three against Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee. Not coincidentally, those last two were losses and Missouri was a one-point win. Snell’s success on the ground is imperative for Kentucky to regain its rhythm offensively.
2. Experts of efficiency
Both Stockstill and Wilson enter Saturday ranked among the top 20 nationally in completion percentage, with Stockstill (68.8 percent) at No. 10 and Wilson (66.7 percent) just eight spots behind. Kentucky’s pass defense is the third-best in the SEC (No. 16 in FBS); Middle Tennessee’s is well below the national average, but Kentucky’s pass offense generates the 14th-fewest yards nationally at just 159.6 yards passing per game. Look for both signal callers — especially in Stockstill’s case — to continue looking for high-percentage passes to attack the defense.
3. Turnover margin
Between two talented teams both sitting at seven wins, the margins for error are slimmer than one might think. That’s where winning the turnover battle comes into play, an area where the Blue Raiders have excelled this season. Middle Tennessee has a plus-six turnover margin on the season (16 takeaways, 10 turnovers) while Kentucky is even at 10 apiece. In a road game for the Blue Raiders, expect Middle Tennessee to come out very aggressive to force a turnover and swing the momentum of this game.
Both teams are already bowl eligible at this point, so it’s all about sustaining momentum going into December. Kentucky started off incredibly strong, but Middle Tennessee is playing some of its best football down the stretch. An exciting one awaits us in Lexington.
Prediction: Kentucky 31, Middle Tennessee 26
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.