After a much needed (at least for the fans) bye week, the Kentucky Wildcats are back in action on Saturday against the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. Standing at 5-1, it is crucial for the Wildcats to have a strong showing to carry the early momentum over to what has turned out to be a very manageable back end of the schedule.
I was able to speak to Evan Ertel over at For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, the Missisippi State SB Nation site, about the upcoming match-up. You can see his thoughts about the game below, and check out what I had to say in my interview with him here.
1. Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has looked strong at times this season in the passing game, but he has not been as consistent as I'm sure your fan base would like. What do you expect to see from him against Kentucky on Saturday?
Evan: Well before I talk about what I expect to see, I'm going to tell you what I'd like to see. Fitzgerald is a really not great passer in my opinion. Last week against BYU he hit the 30 threshold for passing attempts and that is borderline obscene, completing 19 for 241 on an average of 8 yards per attempt. I would really like to see Dan Mullen shift the offense to be more run-heavy, where we have seen limited turnovers and high production, unlike in the passing game where Fitzgerald already has 7 picks on the season. I would like to see him stay at about 22 attempts Saturday, but I'm not sure how many times Mullen will send his QB downfield. So, I'd expect to see about 25 passing attempts but all conservative throws that keep the chains moving.
2. The Bulldogs have yet to play in a close game this season, whereas all of Kentucky's games have come down to the wire. Does that give either team an advantage this weekend?
Evan: I would certainly say that speaks to Kentucky's advantage. Having been in those close games I expect Kentucky to be sharper in those type of situations in the game Saturday, like for instance a two minute offense or goal line stand opportunity. MSU has yet to see any of those game-defining situations in anything other than practice so you never know how they'll perform until you put them under the microscope. Let's hope that Saturday's game doesn't come down to the wire because experience may prove to be the deciding factor.
3. Mississippi State has obviously played a tougher schedule than Kentucky up to this point. Have there been any opponents in particular this season that have prepared the Bulldogs to take on the Wildcats?
Evan: Absolutely, Mississippi State has played what will probably end up being a top 5 team in the nation as well as arguably the third best defense in the EC. (That was Georgia and Auburn, respectively.) Despite neither of these games being close or really even competitive, MSU still spent two consecutive weeks playing incredibly tough road games versus some elite talent. While these guys may not have experienced the mental stress of a close game, many of them have already been through the fire in the form of the matchups they were assigned each week in those games.
4. Talk to me a bit about this "stripe out." I have seen it attempted before, but with little success. Do you expect the Bulldog fans to show up and show out on Saturday?
Over the last couple years, the MSU Athletic Marketing Department has made a trend of telling fans to wear different colors to different games and it has really caught on to the point where before each home game, people will take to tweeting the athletic department about what color to wear so that they can plan accordingly. After doing this on a weekly basis for a season or two, they started printing what to wear right on the schedule posters. Over time the department got creative, mixing and matching, the upper bowl a different color from the lower bowl or the East side different from the West side of the stadium. Fans are definitely used to color coordinating as a whole crowd so I wouldn't be worried there, my only concern would be is that there will be enough people to in Davis Wade the whole game to do the stripe out justice.
5. Mississippi State also has a tough road ahead on the back end of their schedule. How important is this weekend's game for momentum moving forward, and perhaps more importantly, bowl placement in the post-season?
Evan: Massive. If the Bulldogs lose this weekend, the road to bowl game much more difficult and if they get there, the destination won't be ideal. Not only is this game important for pure record standing, but the momentum that can be built off of another win at home over an SEC opponent has the potential to carry MSU to 8-4 or even 9-3. If the Bulldogs can win this weekend, it'll make a trip to College Station a lot less stressful, just one win away from bowl eligibility and right back into the mix at the top of the SEC. A loss at home this weekend makes A&M look terrifying and if it snowballs into two consecutive losses where MSU limps into UMass at 4-4, Bulldog fans can say "hello" to 6-6 at best. So, yeah, to sum it all up, this weekend is a must-win for Mississippi State.
I want to give a huge thanks to Evan for initiating these interviews. We may just have to borrow this idea on a more regular basis. Go check out For Whom the Bell Tolls to see what their other writers are saying about this weekend’s match-up.