The Kentucky Wildcats and the Mississippi St. Bulldogs face off Saturday night at Kroger Field in a game with major implications for both squads.
For Kentucky, a win would vault them into the top 25 and provide some serious momentum early in the season, setting the stage for what could be a historic successful season. While the Wildcats still have plenty of potential for a great season with a loss, a win takes the hype to the next level.
For the Bulldogs, a win could push them from #14 nationally into the top 10 and keep them on pace to be a threat to Alabama in the SEC West. The Bulldogs travel to Lexington and then host Florida before a killer stretch in division play, where during the course of four weeks, they host Auburn and Texas A&M and travel to LSU and Alabama.
The Bulldogs certainly would love to have as much momentum as possible headed into that stretch.
Both teams like to run the ball so expect to see a run-heavy game Saturday night under the lights at Kroger Field.
All that said, we gathered our staff here to offer their predictions on how the game will go.
Kentucky has had a successful start to the season and going into this game at 3-0 with a chance to knock off a top-15 SEC team at home, Kroger Field should be electric Saturday night.
Kentucky will need it to pull off an upset against a Mississippi State team favored at -9.5 going into the game. The Bulldogs put their talent on display in a 31-10 victory at Kansas State in Week 2 where the Bulldogs racked up 384 yards on the ground on almost 10 yards per carry.
Kentucky’s defense will need to be ready for one of their toughest challenges of the season in the Bulldogs’ three-headed rushing attack of Kylin Hill, Aeris Williams, and QB Nick Fitzgerald. The trio has accounted for 675 rushing yards through three games along with eight touchdowns.
The Bulldogs are strong defensively too, particularly up front with two potential first round picks on their defensive line in Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons. That will be a lot to overcome for this Wildcats squad.
Kentucky certainly has a chance to win this game. They were competitive with the Bulldogs in the first half in Starkville last year before the wheels fell off at the end of the first half.
I definitely expect this game to be much closer, but ultimately, I think the Cats fall short in their upset bid.
Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Kentucky 21
To say this game is bigger than the Florida game is silly, but with every win the opportunity grows and so does the pressure. Make no mistake, Mississippi State is very good on both sides of the ball. Their offense has not seemed to suffer from the loss of Dan Mullen, and their defense is full of grown men.
However, they have yet to play any legitimate competition. How will they react when they get hit in the mouth? How will they respond if Kentucky jumps out to an early lead?
There are so many unknowns in this game. Mississippi State is the better team on paper. But with Kentucky having momentum, home field advantage, and Benny Snell, I think the Cats can pull this one off on Saturday.
Prediction: Kentucky 27, Mississippi State 24
What a dandy it’s going to be in Lexington Saturday night. I’d make the argument that despite Kentucky currently being unranked that this is the game that the ESPN College Gameday crew should be attending.
The Bulldogs are an incredible team. New head coach Joe Moorhead is doing an outstanding job with the same core group of players Dan Mullen left behind. The Bulldogs currently have the No. 6 defense in the country and the No. 9 offense. This has them ranked #14 in the nation.
The Cats have played outstanding football themselves. They have held opponents to a solid 15.3 points per game and finally ended their dreaded losing streak to Florida. This game will be physical. Both teams will come out trying to shut one another out. There won’t be all too much scoring with two great defenses.
At the end of the day, I genuinely feel these teams are close to even. However, it often comes down to the team with the better quarterback in games like these. Nick Fitzgerald is better than Terry Wilson. I’ll go Bulldogs in a close one.
Prediction: Mississippi State 20 Kentucky 17
It’s a big game for the Wildcats this week as they face off with #14 Mississippi State. This matchup is going to be a fun one, and I believe for Kentucky to come away with the win, two things must happen.
Kentucky must get excellent play from the linebackers. Nick Fitzgerald is one of the best QBs in the SEC and he is a good running QB, which is something that in recent years Kentucky has had a lot of issues stopping. So, the linebackers must be on their “A” game in order to slow him down and keep him contained.
The other thing that must happen is the offensive line has to have another Florida game performance. Against the Gators, the line controlled the game, and Kentucky won in the trenches. The Bulldogs have an excellent defensive line, and giving Terry Wilson time will help lower the chances of a mistake.
However, if coach Stoops and the Cats can pull this one out, they will be on track to have a type of special season that hasn’t been seen in a long time. It would put Kentucky at 4-0 with a lot of winnable games left on the schedule.
Prediction: Kentucky 24, Mississippi State 17
I think this could be the matchup that can make or break the Cats. There’s no question the Cats have momentum on their side right now. After ending the Florida streak and opening 3-0, Kentucky has it rolling.
But to truly get the Cats where they want to be, both this season and beyond, they have to beat ranked SEC opponents. Mississippi State has done a really good job building their program in a loaded SEC West. Their hopes begin and end with quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
If the UK defense does a good job containing Fitzgerald in the pocket and limiting the big plays, the Cats definitely have a chance at the upset. And if the Wildcats’ offense imposes their will on the Bulldogs along the line of scrimmage and establishes the run game, then the Cats definitely have a chance to pull the upset.
That said, I think the Cats have the players and the mindset to go 4-0 after Saturday night.
Prediction: Kentucky 27, Mississippi State 23
The matchup against Mississippi State is not a make or break game, in my opinion, for the Wildcats’ season, but getting to 4-0 and defeating a ranked team could really give UK a lot of momentum. The Cats are heavy underdogs and this game is a chance to make a statement to the rest of the SEC.
With games against South Carolina and Georgia looming, as well as a road game in College Station against the Aggies, the road to an 8-plus win season for the Cats would be challenging if they don’t pick up a home win on Saturday against the Bulldogs.
This will be the type of game that separates UK from having a great season and having a solid season. Seeing as how I expect the Wildcats to have a great season, I’m picking UK in an upset. I expect a big game from Benny Snell, and I’m looking for Josh Allen to make a key defensive play late in the ball game.
Prediction: Kentucky 24, Mississippi State 20
Coming into this game, I would say that most Kentucky fans wouldn’t have believed that we would be 3-0, because most were still skeptical of the Cats breaking the 31-year streak against the Florida Gators in Gainesville.
With that being said, I know that this game is very important game However, I think that if Kentucky at least plays Mississippi State close, I still believe that the Cats will continue their momentum into the South Carolina game the following week.
Their keys to victory have to include Benny Snell rushing for around 125 yards, give or take a few. We know that Mississippi State has a couple of key rushing weapons in Fitzgerald and KYlin Hill, but from what I’ve seen in Kentucky’s rush defense, I believe that can slow the Bulldogs down and hold them under 150 yards combined rushing.
Once again, Kentucky’s offensive line will be crucial, because they absolutely have to be able to convert on third downs and move the chains so that their can give their defensive guys rest.
A win would be awesome and would set Kentucky up for an 8-4 or even possibly a 9-3 season, depending on how the rest of the season plays out. I’m usually pretty positive, but unfortunately my prediction for this game has Kentucky falling to Mississippi State in a close one.
Prediction: Mississippi State 27, Kentucky 20
I’ve already underestimated the Cats once this year, and I’m not making that mistake again this week. This is the Kentucky Football coming out party. Saturday, Kentucky will make a statement to all of college football and the SEC that they are the real deal.
Mississippi State is arguably a top 3 or 4 team in the SEC. They have the number 7 ranked offense and number 8 ranked defense in the country. Not many teams find themselves in a position to have BOTH a dominant offense and defense, but that’s what the Bulldogs have this year.
However, the Kentucky Wildcats are not too far behind ranking 38th nationally offensively and 28th defensively. And they’ve played pretty similar schedules. In fact, I’d give the advantage to Kentucky as Mississippi State played a road game at Kansas State that I wouldn’t exactly deem comparable to The Swamp, along with home games against Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Lafayette. They’ve been absolutely dominant, but Saturday is their first real test.
Mississippi State has a stout front seven and dominant running game that likes to take the occasional shot downfield. Led by Nick Fitzgerald, it’s hard to imagine how to stop this team. But I think Kentucky will get it done Saturday night. Kroger Field under the lights on ESPN2 for a national coming out party? Yes, please.
The Cats will do just enough. And when I say just enough, I mean they will force a couple Nick Fitzgerald interceptions in a shootout that will come down to the wire.
Prediction: Kentucky 38, Mississippi State 37
Both Kentucky and Mississippi State are coming off big scoring weeks behind their quarterbacks and running backs. Nick Fitzgerald has looked really good so far, and Terry Wilson has looked more comfortable through each week, maybe even each series or play, this season. As Kylin Hill and Benny Snell Jr. have traded tweets this week, both will look to continue their hot starts to the season, as they both have 3 touchdowns apiece.
Mississippi State is rightfully ranked, but they have yet to play a true test like there is in the SEC. A win for UK would more than likely mean a Top-25 ranking, which would validate how good this team really is. They’re 3-0 through a tough Central Michigan team in the opener, rival Florida in the swamp, and a trampling of Murray State last weekend.
Since this will be Mississippi State’s first SEC matchup of the season (on the road nonetheless) and Kentucky’s offense is full of playmakers, I see Kentucky pulling the upset at home and at lest earning themselves a seat at the SEC discussion table.
Prediction: Kentucky 31, Mississippi State 24
The Wildcats are on a hot streak, but 14th-ranked Mississippi State will be coming into this game hot as well. The Bulldogs are going to be one of the biggest challenges this Kentucky team faces all season.
Other than Georgia, there isn’t an opponent with a better team on both sides of the ball. The Bulldogs are ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense and defense. Even with that juggernaut of a team, the Wildcats still have one thing they don’t: Benny Snell.
After ending the Florida streak, anything is possible, but any chance of winning will be in Benny Snell’s very capable hands.
Prediction: Kentucky 21, Mississippi 20
In my opinion there will be two factors that are going to determine the outcome of Kentucky’s huge showdown with Mississippi State on Saturday night. The first is UK’s ability to establish Benny Snell and the running game.
The Bulldog defensive line has some of the top players in the nation and they have shown it during the first three games of the season by only allowing 255 total rushing yards. I don’t see any path to victory without being able to accumulate first downs with consistency.
Secondly, Kentucky has to win the turnover battle. There could be a big play here or there that will dictate the outcome of this one. A lucky break may be what the Cats need. But any UK football fan knows that the Cats are due for a fortunate bounce of the ball.
This team has bought in. Kash Daniel and Josh Allen will keep Mississippi State quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald in check and lead Kentucky to one of the biggest wins in the Mark Stoops era.
Prediction: Kentucky 28, Mississippi State 27
So far, the Kentucky Wildcats are 3-0 on the season and 1-0 in the SEC. The win over the Florida Gators definitely propelled this team and this fan base into a higher stratosphere.
Their next major SEC matchup comes against a Mississippi State team that has looked as dominant in their 3 wins as any team in the country. They are led but truly physical and imposing offensive and defensive lines. They are able to initiate the point of attack and move the opposite line at will.
This is a tougher game than the one against the Gators in terms of opposing talent. But the good news is that the Cats can match the Bulldogs in all of the skill positions, the secondary, and the linebackers.
The question will be can the UK defensive and offensive lines hold their own? Both units are much improved and both have looked dominant at times this season. But there needs to be consistency from first to last snap. That, to me, will be the defining aspect of the game that will determine whether or not Kentucky can pull the upset.
We have been burned before by hyping up major night games in the past only to be let down. But this team has a different feel to it. They have the confidence, the talent, and the depth to compete against the Bulldogs. I do not think it’s going to be a blowout like it was last season.
I can’t buy into a win just yet. Like the Florida game, I have to see it to believe it.
Prediction: Bulldogs 27, Wildcats 24