LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Wildcats need a win to continue their trajectory toward a bowl bid and the Bulldogs are trying to put the breaks on a losing skid.
Kentucky (3-3, 2-2 SEC) faces Mississippi State (2-4, 1-2 SEC) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. The Wildcats have dropped seven straight contests to the Bulldogs but are winners of three out of their last four heading into the Mississippi State matchup.
Michael Bonner covers Mississippi State for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. We caught up with Michael to get his take on the Bulldogs and how he sees Saturday playing out.
Q: How much do you think Mississippi State is viewing Saturday as a chance to get back on track after its recent rough stretch?
Michael: It’s definitely an opportunity for the Bulldogs to win a few games before they head into a very difficult stretch in November. MSU has been able to take positives from its loss to BYU. Despite a 2-4 record at the midway point of the season, I don’t see Mississippi State quitting and letting the season snowball into an ever worse situation. But, certainly, it begins this weekend.
Q: Mark Stoops and the Kentucky players have repeatedly said Mississippi State is better than its record indicates. Is that coach speak or might there be a bit of truth in it?
Michael: If Westin Graves makes a 28-yard field goal against South Alabama and someone falls on a fumble in overtime against BYU, the Bulldogs are 4-2 right now. That said, I don’t think the record says a lot about MSU. The Bulldogs are talented but are also extremely inexperienced. They’ve played that way this season. Mississippi State has put two complete halves together only once this season. The inconsistent play has led to an up-and-down season, which is the true identity of this team through six games.
Q: How much does the team sway on how Nick Fitzgerald plays?
Michael: Nick Fitzgerald is key for Mississippi State’s offense. If he plays well, the offense follows. If he can’t produce, the offense doesn’t. There aren’t many playmakers around him, so if he’s off, there’s no one to substitute, especially in the running game. Running back Aeris Williams played well against BYU in place of injured starter Brandon Holloway, but Fitzgerald is still the key to MSU’s running game.
Q: Kentucky’s offense has struggled lately, especially through the air. What are Mississippi State’s strengths defensively?
Michael: MSU is coming off its best performance in terms of passing yards allowed last week. BYU threw for 165 yards in the double-overtime win. But the Bulldogs posted their best defensive numbers in terms of points (in regulation) and total yards, as well as passing yards. MSU’s strength heading into the game was its rush defense. So, the unit is coming together, which is key heading into Kentucky.
Q: How do you see Saturday playing out?
Michael: I think MSU continues to play well defensively and the offense catches up. It’s tough to pick MSU on the road, but it’s also difficult to pick against the Bulldogs against Kentucky.