Kentucky tries to stay on a roll against Mississippi State
Kentucky and Mississippi State have each had solid, albeit under-the-radar first half starts to their seasons.
Both have plenty the play for, though the Wildcats have a little extra motivation when they face the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Kentucky (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) is alone in second place in the SEC’s Eastern Division and still controls its own destiny with a game against division leader Georgia on Nov. 18.
Kentucky has won 12 of 16 regular season games dating back to last season. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops — who is in his fifth season — has done a good job.
“It looks a lot like how we built our program,” Mullen said. “Getting guys to believe and they play really hard and then putting them in a system where they can be successful. They are flexible in what they do, both offensively and defensively.”
Mississippi State and Mullen had won seven straight games in the series until Kentucky’s 40-38 victory last season in Lexington. The Wildcats’ Austin MacGinnis made a 51-yard field goal as time expired to win the game.
Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2) is trying to build off of last week’s 35-10 win over BYU. The Bulldogs had back-to-back road losses to Georgia and Auburn, but are undefeated at home, including a 37-7 win over LSU on Sept. 16.
In the BYU game, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was at his dual-threat best, throwing for 241 yards and two touchdowns while also running for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Stoops said the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses.
“He’s just so physical,” Stoops said. “He’s a big, strong guy, and can throw the ball. He certainly can handle designed quarterback run.”
Here are some other things to watch when the Bulldogs host the Wildcats:
CHASING DAK: Mississippi State’s Fitzgerald has accounted for 60 career touchdowns, including 34 passing and 26 rushing. That’s second in school history behind current Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, who had 114. Fitzgerald broke Prescott’s record with his 10th career 100-yard rushing game against BYU last week.
GOOD VS. THE EAST: Mullen has a 14-6 record against teams in the SEC’s Eastern Division during his career, including a 7-2 record at home with five straight wins. Kentucky is Mississippi State’s permanent SEC East opponent and Mullen is 7-1 against the Wildcats during his tenure.
HARD TO GET FITZ: Mississippi State has allowed just three sacks this season, which is the fewest in the SEC and tied for the third-fewest in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
GOOD VS. GOOD: Mississippi State is running for nearly 262 yards per game, which ranks third in the SEC. Kentucky will counter with a defense that allows just 97 yards per game, which is also third in the conference.
QUOTABLE: Stoops on the first half of Kentucky’s season: “The bottom line is that we have won five games, which is very good. We are doing very good in turnover margin and I think the team has found ways to win when maybe the other side is not playing its best.”