Mississippi State will welcome Kentucky to Starkville during Week 8 action in a battle between two of the SEC’s rising programs this season.
The Bulldogs are 4-2 (2-1 SEC), thanks to an offense that protects both the ball and its quarterback. Mississippi State has yet to lose a fumble on an offensive possession and has allowed quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to be sacked an SEC-low three times (third best in the FBS).
Kentucky is looking to spoil Dan Mullen’s ninth homecoming. The Mississippi State coach is 7-1 in homecoming contests.
The Wildcats are the underdogs, but shouldn’t be taken lightly. Mark Stoops’ program (5-1, 2-1 SEC) has won two straight and is one defensive stop against Florida from undefeated.
1. The quarterbacks
Nick Fitzgerald returned to form last Saturday against BYU after struggling in previous weeks against Auburn and Georgia. The junior posted a season-high 241 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air. He also rushed for his second 100-yard game this season (101 yards) and added 2 touchdowns on the ground in the win over the Cougars.
While the Heisman talk has rightfully subsided, Fitzgerald’s numbers are still impressive: 1,024 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, 446 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns.
Like Fitzgerald, Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson is coming off a season-high performance after posting 298 yards against Missouri two weeks ago. The sophomore has 9 scoring tosses and has been intercepted just twice.
2. Series history
Mississippi State holds a 23-20 edge over Kentucky in a series that dates to 1915. The two programs met last season in what turned out to be a 40-38 Wildcats victory. The win was the first for Kentucky in its last eight attempts versus the Bulldogs.
3. The opening line
Mississippi State is the clear-cut favorite, according to the Bovada sports book. The Bulldogs enter the Week 8 tilt by giving 10 (-110) points to the Wildcats.
4. Player to watch
RB Aeris Williams
Fitzgerald gets the majority of the attention in Starkville. But it’s Williams who leads the Bulldogs with 523 rushing yards. He rushed for his third 100-plus-yard game of the season last week versus BYU, the fifth of his career.
5. What’s at stake
A win for Mississippi State would give the Bulldogs the same record as Kentucky at 5-2 (2-2 SEC), a remarkable accomplishment for both programs through the first seven weeks. The Wildcats gain bowl eligibility with a victory. It would make for consecutive trips to the postseason for Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who missed out on a bowl game during his first three seasons in Lexington.