Wildcats look to finally get in the win column when they host the Bulldogs
The earliest implementation of the Air Raid offense in the SEC dates back to the turn of the millennium when the Kentucky Wildcats coaching staff featured up-and-coming assistants Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. Leach is back in the Southeastern Conference, now the Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach, and he brings his 2020 version of the Air Raid back to Lexington for a showdown with Kentucky.
After a pair of disappointing losses to open the truncated campaign, Kentucky aims to get on track. The Wildcats will be looking to avoid their first 0-3 start since a winless 1982 campaign, while Mississippi State has a chance to return to the Top 25.
Mississippi State at Kentucky
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Kentucky -2
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
Despite Leach's history in the SEC, the conference isn't accustomed to his version of the Air Raid. The Bulldogs line up five pass-catchers on pretty much every snap, including running back Kylin Hill. Hill's versatility out of the backfield proved especially useful in Mississippi State's season-opening upset of reigning national champion LSU.
In that game, quarterback K.J. Costello set a program record for pass completions — a record which stood all of one week until last Saturday's matchup with Arkansas. Despite breaking his own mark, Costello's yardage output (a new SEC record set against LSU) and Mississippi State's scoring both dropped precipitously.
Credit the Arkansas defense, which came out in a 3-2-6 base. The abundance of defensive backs addressed the threat of Hill as a fifth receiver out of the backfield and turned every Costello pass into a takeaway opportunity. That's going to be especially important for Kentucky to replicate.
Mark Stoops teams, both in his time as a defensive coordinator before coming to Kentucky and now as head coach, flourish when they can generate turnovers. Through their first two games of 2020, the Wildcats have zero takeaways.
When Kentucky Has the Ball
The first two games of Kentucky's season were about as wildly divergent on offense as possible. The Wildcats mustered just 13 points in the season-opening loss to Auburn but followed up last week with 41 points against Ole Miss. Considering the pace of play Mississippi State prefers more closely resembling Lane Kiffin's approach at Ole Miss, scoring opportunities for Kentucky on Saturday should more closely resemble Week 2.
Meanwhile, the contrast in the Wildcats offense, emphasizing a multifaceted ground attack, is about as polar-opposite from the Mississippi State air raid as a game could have without featuring the Wishbone. Three Wildcats — Asim Rose, Chris Rodriguez Jr., and Terry Wilson — eclipsed the century mark against Ole Miss.
In contrast, Kentucky barely got over 100 yards rushing as a team against Auburn. The premium on establishing the run is paramount.
Kentucky's 0-2 start might be the most disappointing development of the early SEC season. An 0-3 start in an abbreviated campaign would be a close-to-insurmountable disaster. Mississippi State poses a unique challenge with its unorthodox offensive approach, and Costello showed in the season-opener just how dangerous he can be.
However, the Arkansas loss proved the Air Raid isn't infallible. Kentucky must generate turnovers as the Razorbacks did, which starts with applying pressure in the Bulldogs backfield. Should the Wildcats do so, they'll get off the schneid.
Prediction: Kentucky 30, Mississippi State 27
Podcast: Week 6 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.