UK Football

The Blue Preview: UK tries to throw off Dan Mullen’s dominance

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson II dived for a first down on a 4th-and-1 play late in the Wildcats’ 20-13 victory over Vanderbilt.
Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson II dived for a first down on a 4th-and-1 play late in the Wildcats’ 20-13 victory over Vanderbilt. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Mississippi State at Kentucky

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: Commonwealth Stadium

TV: SEC Network (play-by-play Mark Jones; analyst Rod Gilmore; sideline Quint Kessenich)

Radio: WLAP AM-630, WBUL FM-98.1, XM Channel 191, Sirius Channel 113

Records: Mississippi State 2-4 (1-2 SEC); Kentucky 3-3 (2-2 SEC)

Series: Mississippi State leads 22-21 and has won seven in a row

Last meeting: Mississippi State won 42-16 on Oct. 24, 2015, in Starkville.

Favorite: Mississippi State is favored by 3 points

The storyline

Kentucky will try to beat a Dan Mullen-coached Mississippi State team for the first time after seven defeats. The Cats will try to move Mark Stoops closer to his first bowl trip as UK head coach by winning for the fourth time in their past five games.

On the spot

Stephen Johnson II. Since the back injury that sidelined starting quarterback Drew Barker, Kentucky is 3-1 in games in which Johnson has played the preponderance of snaps. However, Johnson struggled through the air (10-for-24 for only 49 yards with one interception) in UK’s 20-13 win over Vanderbilt. Mississippi State has given up more touchdown passes (13) than any team in the SEC, but can Johnson throw it well enough to take advantage?

The main threat

Nick Fitzgerald might not be Dak Prescott, but the new Mississippi State starting quarterback, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound sophomore from Richmond Hill, Ga., leads MSU in both passing (998 yards) and rushing (431). In other words, State still has the type of dual-threat QB that historically has given Kentucky defenses fits.

The mood

Could be headed toward some good vibrations. After the fan base toxicity that accompanied Kentucky’s 0-2 start, the Wildcats have won three of their last four, including SEC wins over South Carolina and Vanderbilt. UK’s next three games are against 2-4 Mississippi State, at 2-4 Missouri and vs. 4-3 Georgia. Assuming UK is a lock to beat Austin Peay (0-6) of the FCS, bowl eligibility for the Cats rides on winning two of the next three.

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