Mississippi State looks to start 4-0 for the first time since 2014
No. 14 Mississippi State has outscored its opponents 150-26 en route to a 3-0 start, and all is well in Starkville. A win this week against Kentucky will put the Bulldogs at 4-0 for the first time since 2014.
The Wildcats carry a 3-0 record into Kroger Field, where they are 11-3 in their last 14 contests and last beat Mississippi State 40-38 in 2016 to snap a seven-game losing streak against the Bulldogs.
The Wildcats and Bulldogs first met in 1914, and Mississippi State holds a 23-22 series advantage. Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald accounted for five touchdowns in last year’s 45-7 win.
Mississippi State at Kentucky
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Mississippi State -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. MSU’s vaunted defensive front vs. Wildcats RB Benny Snell Jr.
No running back this season has rushed for more than 80 yards against MSU’s talented defensive line. In fact, the only one to come close is Kansas State’s Alex Barnes, who gained 75 yards on 17 carries. Snell, however, is not your average back, and his contributions have given Kentucky FBS’ No. 11-ranked rushing offense (282.3 yards per game).
Snell enters Saturday’s contest ranked No. 2 in the SEC in rushing yards with 375 to go with three touchdowns. He opened the season with a 125-yard, two-touchdown effort against Central Michigan, and he ran for a season-high 175 yards against Florida. He gained 75 yards on 15 carries and scored a touchdown last week against Murray State.
Snell will have his toughest task of the young season against an MSU defense that’s ranked No. 8 in FBS. Opposing rushers have yet to score a touchdown against MSU, and the Bulldogs are allowing only 85 rushing yards per game and 2.5 yards per rush.
2. MSU’s high-powered offense
The Bulldogs can beat you through the air or on the ground — take your pick. MSU’s passing offense ranks No. 43 nationally, while its rushing attack is the fifth-best in the country. MSU head coach Joe Moorhead was hired in part due to the success Penn State’s offense enjoyed under his direction, and he’s replicated that production so far in his new position.
MSU is averaging 50 points per game through the first three weeks and has scored 21 touchdowns. In 14 red-zone attempts, the Bulldogs have netted points 13 times (12 touchdowns and a field goal).
In two games this season, dual-threat QB Nick Fitzgerald has already amassed 266 yards rushing and four touchdowns, and running back Kylin Hill has 293 yards rushing and three touchdowns to his name after three games. Hill and Fitzgerald rank No. 5 and No. 6, respectively, in the SEC in rushing yards.
Kentucky’s defense is allowing 305.7 yards per game, while MSU’s offense averages 587.7 per game. Something’s bound to give.
3. The maturation of Terry Wilson
Wilson arrived at Kentucky via Oregon and Garden City (Kan.) Community College, and through three games this year the sophomore quarterback has shown why he was highly sought after coming out of Garden City.
Wilson is 41-of-59 with 392 yards passing and two touchdowns against three interceptions. His athleticism gives him another dimension, as he’s tallied 223 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 32 attempts.
Wilson will undoubtedly experience growing pains against MSU’s stellar defense, but as he showed in Kentucky’s streak-snapping win at Florida, he’s quite unflappable under pressure. Wilson should offer a good complement to Snell.
Kentucky fans will give Moorhead a rowdy reception when he and the Bulldogs make the trek to Kroger Field Saturday. The Wildcats have owned Kroger Field as of late, which is evident from their 11-3 record there over the last 14 games.
MSU’s defense has been flat-out dominant, which comes as no surprise to anyone. The offensive output the Bulldogs have gotten over the last three weeks, coupled with the defense, has made MSU unstoppable.
Snell, Wilson and Wildcats leading tackler Kash Daniel will have a difficult time slowing down the Bulldogs in this one. MSU moves to 4-0 and 1-0 in SEC play.
Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Kentucky 17
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star, Hayes also has been an invited guest on "The Paul Finebaum Show." Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.