USA Today/Matt Bush

Previewing the Kentucky Wildcats' matchup with the Mississippi State Bulldogs

Everything you need to know about Kentucky's matchup with Mississippi State on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. It's a huge game for the Wildcats, who seek to move to 4-3 on the season and end a seven-game losing skid to the Bulldogs.

KENTUCKY vs. MISSISSIPPI STATE

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m. ET

WHERE: Commonwealth Stadium (61,000) Lexington, Ky.

TV: SEC Network

RECORDS: Kentucky (3-3, 2-2 SEC); Mississippi State (2-4, 1-2 SEC)

COACHES: Kentucky - Mark Stoops (4th year, 15-27, 0-3 vs MSU); Mississippi State - Dan Mullen (8th year, 57-39, 7-0 vs UK)

RANKINGS: Kentucky NR; Mississippi State NR

LAST GAME: Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 17-10 in Lexington on Oct. 8; Mississippi State lost 28-21 in double-overtime at BYU last week.

LINE: Mississippi State -3.5

SERIES RECORD: MSU leads 22-21

BIG BLUE KEYS TO THE GAME:

When Kentucky has the ball… The Wildcats spent their open date on the schedule trying to refine the passing attack which accounted for only 89 yards against Alabama and 49 yards against Vanderbilt in UK's last two games. All the reports out of the Joe Craft Football Training Center were positive regarding quarterback Stephen Johnson and his timing with a talented receiver corps that hasn't been able to strut their stuff in a long time. The staff believes junior Dorian Baker, fully healthy after missing most of the first half of the season with a hamstring issue, could be poised for a breakout game. Expect MSU to stack the box against UK's potent rushing attack led by Boom Williams and Benny Snell, so Johnson will have some opportunities to make some big plays down the field with guys like Baker, Garrett Johnson, Jeff Badet and C.J. Conrad. The Bulldogs, who are 36th nationally against the run (136.2 ypg, 3.55 ypc) and 64th against the pass (225 ypg, 13 TDs), are going to make Johnson prove he can beat them before they'll loosen up. Keep an eye on MSU defensive end A.J. Jefferson (No. 47, 6-3, 280, Sr.) who ranks 10th nationally with 10 tackles for loss this season, including four sacks.

When Mississippi State has the ball…  The Bulldogs no longer feature noted Wildcat-killer Dak Prescott at quarterback. He's now starring for the Dallas Cowboys and showing the NFL some of the same skills he used to torture UK for 12 touchdowns the last three years, including six in last year's 42-16 romp in Starkville. Enter Nick Fitzgerald (No. 7, 6-5, 230, Soph.), another dual-threat quarterback who ranks fifth nationally in average rushing yards by a signal caller (78 ypg) including a career-high 195 against South Carolina. He's one of only three quarterbacks nationally with a 300-yard passing/100-yard rushing game this season. It's a potentially tough matchup for the Cats, who have had their issues with this style of quarterback. Look for UK to take a similar approach to MSU's defense -- load the box, make Fitzgerald prove he can throw down the field. Hindered by one of the worst third-down conversion rates in the nation (110th, 33.3 percent) the Bulldogs struggle to cap drives with points, ranking 95th in scoring offense at 24.8 points per game.

MILESTONE WATCH:

Kentucky junior WR Garrett Johnson has 1,224 career receiving yards and is tied with Derek Smith for 18th all-time on Kentucky’s career receiving list. He needs 65 yards to tie Chris Matthews for 17th.

ON THIS DAY IN UK HISTORY:

Kentucky defeated No. 11 Georgia 16-10 on Oct. 22, 1988, at Commonwealth Stadium. Jerry Claiborne's Wildcats got 128 yards rushing from Alfred Rawls and linebacker Randy Holleran recorded 13 tackles as the UK defense held the Bulldogs to only 224 total yards. The Cats just narrowly missed a bowl game at 5-6, losing several heartbreakers in the SEC against No. 12 Alabama (31-27), No. 19 LSU (15-12) and No. 11 Tennessee (28-24). 

NOTES:

  • Kentucky is 12-9 versus Mississipi State in Lexington.
  • The Cats' last win in th series was a 14-13 thriller at Starkville in 2008.
  • The UK-MSU games are typically close. Only twice since 2005 has the final margin been more than two touchdowns.
  • A win would give the Cats three SEC victories for the first time since 2009.
  • UK has one player from the Magnolia State on its roster, sophomore offensive lineman Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings of McComb.
  • For just the fourth time in school history, UK can boast two players with at least 1,000 career receiving yards (Garrett Johnson and Ryan Timmons) and two players with at least 1,000 career rushing yards (Jojo Kemp and Boom Williams) on the same team.

AW PREDICTION:

Kentucky 26, Mississippi State 23

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