Welcome, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, to the Virtual Tailgate for the Kentucky Wildcats trip to the Mississippi St. Bulldogs in Starkville, Mississippi. Who knows what difficulties await down in StarkVegas, but since the Bulldogs are our permanent "rival" (how this "rivalry" happened, nobody seems to know for sure) in the SEC West, we get to go down there every couple of years and enjoy... well, don't scoff, as a southern Gulf coast state, they have a lot to offer. Culinarily, that is.
Starkville, as you may know, is the southernmost city of the two SEC Mississippi schools, situated only 80 miles almost due west from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where another SEC team you may have heard of takes up residence. So we'll be enjoying southern cuisine typical of this part of the country tonight.
First, our drink. How about:
The Old Fashioned (via thebittenword.com)
This classic cocktail is made with bourbon, a little sugar, some Angstura bitters, orange slices, and a Maraschino cherry for garnish. It should go down really well.
Next, we'll go to our appetizers. Today, something simple, yet — cheeky like Mississippi:
Mini Corn Dogs (via djjewelz)
Since when is a corn dog ever a bad thing. Shaddup, Doc.
Now for the main event. What should we have? Well, let's stay southern and do:
Fried Catfish (via arnold | inuyaki)
Now, you know down south, we do love our catfish. Mississippi people like catfish, too, fresh caught and farm raised. Only crazy people would eat them out of the Mississippi river, and we may not be great at football in Kentucky yet, but our mamas didn't raise no fools.
Along with that, we gotta have:
Hush Puppies (via bhamsandwich)
Mmm, hush puppies. I can almost hear those arteries hardening. Also:
Honey Mustard Coleslaw (via Thriving Vegetarian)
Nothing goes better with fried fish than coleslaw. Nothing.
For desert, there's really only one thing that works:
Mississippi Mud Pie (via Fields of View)
Yeah, it's Mississippi Mud Pie. You gotta love death by chocolate.
Finally, some beer to wash it down:
Lazy Magnolia Beer. (via KellyReeves)
Did you know they brewed beer in Mississippi? Sure do. This one is pecan-flavored, which sounds a bit like an odd mix to me, but hey — I like pecans, and I like beer, so ...
Okay, now that we're fed, let's look at this football game. Kentucky comes in after playing four top 25 teams and have mostly bumps, bruises, sprains, and lopsided scores to show for it. The Wildcats were competitive in three of the four. Alabama was just too good, and Kentucky might as well have been playing the New England Patriots in that one.
But Mississippi St. is not Alabama this year, nor Florida, Louisville, or South Carolina. the Bulldogs, like us, have a big, fat goose-egg in their SEC win column as well, having lost to LSU by a lot and Auburn by a little. They also barely eeked by Bowling Green a couple of Saturdays back, so the Dawgs have been a little inconsistent this year.
Where they have mostly been good is on defense, and that isn't really good news for the offensively-challenged Wildcats, who figure to be without Jalen Whitlow for tonight, at least. On the other hand, the MSU pass rush is not the Alabama pass rush. They are sitting next to last in sacks in the SEC, so if that form holds, Kentucky's line might just be able to give Maxwell Smith some time, and if he gets that, he might just be able to move the football.
Because of Kentucky's spectacularly thin defense, they simply cannot sustain a sound effort in games where they are forced to play 33+ minutes per half defending their own goal line. For Kentucky to be competitive in this game, it must do what it could not do, except for one series, against Alabama — move and possess the football. Yes, dear reader, I know you've heard this before many times, but unfortunately, the recipe for winning football hasn't changed, even if the competition is a little less superior. Make no mistake, though — Mississippi St. is superior in most measurable ways, not the least of which is wins.
Defensively, Kentucky must find a way to slow down MSU's running game. The Bulldogs might not be lighting the world on fire offensively this season, but they run the football well and have a dual-threat quarterback in Dak Prescott who is averaging 7+ yards per carry and has 8 rushing touchdowns. UK has never handled a dual-threat quarterback well to my recollection, so if we do it this time, it'll be a first.
LaDarius Perkins and Josh Robinson are the running backs, and they both figure to give UK all it wans, and both average almost 5 yards per carry. The Wildcats must stay in their gaps, and even more importantly, get some rest in between possessions. If UK can do a good job on first and second down, we'll be facing a team on third down who's only very slightly better at converting them than Kentucky is.
Kentucky is rising up the charts in turnover margin, currently mid-pack in the SEC. It needs to continue winning turnover battles, but it faces the second-best team in the league in turnover margin tonight, and faces them in their home stadium. Gonna be a tough one.
In the final analysis, this is a difficult game for Kentucky, but not as tough as recently. UK does have a chance to win this game if it plays well, and Mississippi St. does not bring their A game. We can hope that facing the cream of the national crop over the last several games has toughened up the Wildcats and prepared them for this. In some ways, we are fortunate in that we get back several injured players, including Bud DuPree, who could be a real factor in the pass rush.
No matter what happens, let's pull for a strong effort from the Wildcats and an injury-free contest for both sides. Who knows, this may be the game in which the 'Cats finally live up to their name.