Kentucky at Mississippi State
October 23, 2013
By Joe Nelson
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The SEC had a tough weekend last week with many of the high profile contenders taking losses as the league looks much closer top to bottom than in recent years. That theory will be tested Thursday with one of the clear bottom teams Kentucky getting a chance at an upset in primetime Thursday night. Mississippi State is at a critical juncture at 3-3 and this is a must-win game for the program to make a fourth straight bowl game. This is also a rare opportunity to shine on national television for both teams in this week’s Thursday ESPN game.
Matchup: Kentucky Wildcats vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Venue: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Mississippi (grass)
Date: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET – ESPN
Line: Mississippi State -10, Over/Under 56½
Last Meeting: 2012 at Kentucky, Mississippi State (-9½) 27-14
This SEC clash features nearly the exact same spread as each of the last two seasons. In 2011 Mississippi State won 28-16 as a 10-point favorite at Kentucky and last season the Bulldogs won 27-14, also in Lexington as a 9½-point favorite. Both teams were off last week and both programs are in dire need of a win with Mississippi State at 3-3 and Kentucky at 1-5 with both teams still winless in SEC play.
Mississippi State has been in a bowl game three straight seasons but with six games to go finding three wins in the remaining slate will not be easy. Following this game the Bulldogs have road games at South Carolina and Texas A&M in consecutive weeks before the next home game coming against Alabama. Closing the season at Arkansas and hosting Ole Miss might provide better opportunities for wins but the postseason is almost certainly impossible for the Bulldogs if they are upset this week.
While Mississippi State appears to be headed towards another unimpressive season in the fifth year behind Dan Mullen the statistics have been much better this season compared with the previous years. Compared with last season Mississippi State is posting 62 more yards per game on offense while holding foes to 23 fewer yards per game despite nearly identical scoring numbers. Those figures could deteriorate in the coming weeks however with several very difficult matchups ahead.
Mississippi State has an experienced offense with sophomore Dak Prescott seemingly taking on more and more snaps ahead of senior Tyler Russell at quarterback, though both continue to play substantially. The Bulldogs have a veteran offensive line but running the ball has not always come easily with senior running back LaDarius Perkins seeing his numbers drop off substantially from last season. The offense has often been reliant on Prescott to make plays with his legs rather than his arm as he has rushed for 457 yards this season. Leading receiver Jameon Lewis is the only player on the roster with more than 180 receiving yards as there have been few big plays in the passing game.
Mississippi State has allowed just 23 points per game and the numbers should be stronger as LSU’s 59-26 win featured 28 fourth quarter points in a misleading final. The Bulldogs just have not been able to win many of the big games in Mullen’s tenure losing 11 games in a row S/U as an underdog since a minor upset at Florida in 2010. Since 2011 Mississippi State is just 3-9 ATS as an underdog as well. Mississippi State was 6-1 S/U and 5-2 ATS at home last season but they have failed against the spread the last two home games with the loss to LSU and a lackluster win over Bowling Green for homecoming two weeks ago with no points in the second half.
While there is some renewed excitement behind the Kentucky football program with Mark Stoops taking over last winter the expectations were grounded in year one. Opening the season with a loss to Western Kentucky did not help the cause but in week 2 the Wildcats were dominant against Miami, Ohio in the home opener, though that win does not carry much weight. The schedule has been simply brutal since with four losses against prominent ranked teams, Louisville, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama. Kentucky was out-gained by triple-digits in each game but outside of the 48-7 loss to Alabama the scores have been respectable, losing by 14, 17, and 7 in the first three games in that gauntlet.
Kentucky is only scoring 20 points per game this season but considering that the numbers were much worse the past two seasons it has been a sign of progress. The back end of the schedule is much lighter than the recent stretch of games that the Wildcats have faced but it will still be an uphill battle to top last year’s two-win season. Next week is homecoming against Alabama State which should allow Kentucky to get a second win and this week’s game is one of the best chances if Kentucky hopes to get a third win this year.
Kentucky is rushing for 150 yards per game this season, a slight improvement over last year with a 4.7 yards per rush average which is the best mark the program has had in many years. Maxwell Smith has had uneven results at quarterback with just 55 percent completions but he has thrown just one interception this season. He gave way completely to sophomore Jalen Whitlow in the South Carolina game after splitting time early in the season and the strong performance from Whitlow sealed the starting role. Whitlow was injured against Alabama however and is still a question mark for this week’s game but he seems to give the team the best chance to compete.
Senior linebacker Avery Williamson leads the SEC in tackles for Kentucky but the defense has struggled as a whole, allowing 6.5 yards per play and 427 yards per game with equal struggles against the run and pass. The defense is very young as a whole and it has shown but the matchups should get slightly easier down the stretch. The Bulldogs should have a fairly substantial edge on defense in this matchup but the Mississippi State offense has gone through a number of long scoring droughts this season so Kentucky should have opportunities to keep this game close.
Last Meeting: Mississippi State moved to 5-0 with a win at Kentucky last season and it was a more lopsided game than the 13-point margin suggests. Early in the third quarter Mississippi State was up 27-7 before Kentucky added a touchdown and neither team scored in the fourth quarter. Mississippi State out-gained Kentucky by almost 200 yards in the game as Tyler Russell had one of his best games.
Series History: Mississippi State is 14-11 S/U but just 11-13-1 ATS since 1984 against Kentucky. Mississippi State has won each of the last four meetings, going 3-0-1 ATS. The last meeting in Starkville was a 24-17 win in 2010 but Kentucky won in an upset 14-13 in 2008 at Mississippi State.
Line Movement: The line opened at -10 and has mostly stayed steady, with a few books jumping to -10½. The total opened at 57 and has fallen to 56½ at most outlets.
Kentucky Historical Trends: The Wildcats have not won S/U in a road game since early 2010 when they beat Louisville, losing 14 in a row with just three ATS road wins in that span. Kentucky is also just 7-16 ATS since 2009 when playing as an underdog of 10 or more points, though they are 2-2 this season.
Mississippi State Historical Trends: The Bulldogs are 9-2 ATS in the last 11 games as a home favorite and Mississippi State has not been upset as a home favorite since 2009 when they lost as a small favorite against Houston. The Bulldogs are 8-3 ATS the last 11 games when favored by double-digits but that has not been a strong historical role for the program, going 21-34 ATS since 1980.