Kentucky is back in action after a bye week, traveling to Starkville, Miss., for a key Week 8 college football game against Mississippi State. Our SEC Country experts give their predictions from every angle of the game below.
Joe Mussatto: 2-3 in Week 6, 20-9 overall
Kyle Tucker: 2-3 in Week 6, 16-13 overall
Kentucky-Mississippi State over/unders
Mississippi State rushing yards: O/U 199.5 yards
Joe Mussatto: Over. This one is tricky because it’s strength vs. strength. Mississippi State averages 262 rushing yards per game — third in the SEC and 14th in the nation. Kentucky is allowing 97 rushing yards per game — third in the SEC and 10th in the nation. There’s a huge gap between those two averages, but I think things are going to lean Mississippi State’s way. Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is a big threat in the run game and Kentucky hasn’t seen a rushing attack quite like this.
Kyle Tucker: Over. The Bulldogs have rushed for 280-plus in four of six games so far, and while Kentucky ranks 10th nationally in run defense, it hasn’t exactly faced fearsome rushing attacks. And the last opponent, Missouri, rushed for 213 yards (6.5 per carry) on the Cats.
Stephen Johnson pass attempts: O/U 20.5
Joe Mussatto: Over. If we learned anything from the Missouri game, it’s that offensive coordinator Eddie Gran does indeed trust Stephen Johnson to throw the ball when needed. It’s no secret Kentucky wants to establish Benny Snell and the run game, but Johnson’s attempts have steadily increased. Here are his number of attempts starting from Week 1: 20, 22, 25, 25, 27, 36. Those 36 attempts last week were a career high. He’s not likely to reach that mark Saturday but look for him to be in the 25-30 range.
Kyle Tucker: Over. He’s attempted 22-plus in each of the last five games and his attempts increased from 25 to 27 to 36 over the last three. Kentucky can’t run it like last season and needs Johnson, who the staff trusts more than ever, to help win games in 2017.
Kentucky turnovers: O/U 1.5
Joe Mussatto: Under. Kentucky turned the ball over just 5 times in its first six games. Johnson has thrown just 2 interceptions and his ball security has been one of the most positive upgrades from where he was last season. Kentucky’s offense struggles at times, but it doesn’t often turn over the ball.
Kyle Tucker: Under. The Cats are one of the best teams in the country at taking care of the football. They’ve had multiple turnovers just once all season.
Kentucky-Mississippi State spread, predictions
Kentucky vs. Mississippi State (-11)
Joe Mussatto: I was surprised to see Mississippi State open as a double-digit favorite. Kentucky has played in nothing but close games and Mississippi State has either blown out its opponent or been blown out. I think this one stays close all four quarters, but Mississippi State’s defense plus playing at home give the Bulldogs a slight advantage. Mississippi State’s defense is second in the SEC against the pass and fifth against the run. Kentucky’s offensive line has to be better than it’s been all season for the Wildcats to win. Mississippi State 26, Kentucky 20
Kyle Tucker: The Wildcats keep it close, but their run of road success finally ends in Starkville. Mississippi State 27, Kentucky 24