The buzz surrounding Kentucky’s Saturday-night matchup with Mississippi State has been in full force all week, and with good reason.
A win over the Bulldogs would be the Wildcats’ first against them since 2008, and would give Kentucky the overall edge in a series currently knotted at 21. But perhaps more importantly, a victory in Starkville could be the Wildcats’ biggest win of the season. It would certainly be a defining moment of a season that has already seen Kentucky exceed expectations.
Here’s what you should know heading into Saturday night:
Kentucky (4-2, 2-2 SEC) at Mississippi State (5-2, 1-2 SEC)
Kickoff: Sat., Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Weather: 81 degrees, 10 percent chance of rain (Weather.com)
Line: Mississippi St. -12
By the numbers
6- The number of games in a row the Wildcats have played that have been decided by eight points or fewer. Saturday marks Kentucky’s seventh game of the season, meaning every game they’ve played so far this year hasn’t been won or lost by more than eight points. The last time the Wildcats played six straight games decided by such a margin dates back to 1975.
42- Games played between Kentucky and Mississippi State since 1914. Deadlocked at 21 wins each, the tie will be broken Saturday. Mississippi State has a 12-9 advantage in Starkville, but the Bulldogs haven’t led the series since 1944, when they went ahead 5-4.
21- The number of times Kentucky has scored in the red zone this season. Seeing that the Wildcats have only had 22 attempts, good for a 95.5 percent success rate, their red zone offense leads the SEC and is ninth in the nation.
Storylines to watch
Will Kentucky bounce back from an emotional loss to Auburn?
The Wildcats nearly pulled off the upset against Auburn last Thursday, rallying from a 23-10 deficit at the half to make the final score 30-27. That — and the fact that they lost to Florida by just five points — should give the Wildcats some confidence heading into what will be another emotional game Saturday. But whether these tough losses will motivate Kentucky or hinder them is something we’ll have to find out Saturday.
Can Garrett Johnson keep up his recent output?
With Auburn in town, the sophomore wide receiver lit up Commonwealth Stadium, racking up nine catches for 160 yards, a career high. The 160 yards were the most by any Kentucky player since 2010, and Johnson now has 28 receptions for 438 total receiving yards this season. But Johnson only has one receiving touchdown, which came against UL Lafayette in the season opener, back on Sept. 5.
How will the Wildcats stop Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops had high praises for Prescott Wednesday, and if the Wildcats are going to have a fair shot at winning this game, they’ll have to limit Prescott’s damage. This season, Prescott is 148-for-225 with 1,700 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. The senior has broken 23 school records and seems to show no signs of slowing down any time soon. He hasn’t thrown an interception in 26 quarters, the longest streak in the nation.
Who owns the fourth quarter?
To date, Mississippi State has outscored its opponents 55-12 in the fourth quarter, and no team has scored a touchdown in the final quarter against the Bulldogs this season. Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles has had quite a bit of success in the fourth quarter of games this year, amassing 181 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the fourth quarter of his last three games. If the game is close and Kentucky can break through late, the Wildcats could have an advantage. But Mississippi State’s strong late-game defense could be a serious obstacle for the Kentucky offense.
Prediction: Mississippi State 28, Kentucky 17
Kentucky is playing better than they have in the past, and they seem to have a sense of confidence despite a few tough losses. But Mississippi State has the home field advantage and hasn’t lost to an unranked opponent in its last 27 tries in Starkville.