UK Football

Mark Story: Three key questions about Kentucky's football game at Mississippi State

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, left shook hands with Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops after the Mississippi State at Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 25, 2014. Miss. St. won 45-31. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, left shook hands with Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops after the Mississippi State at Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 25, 2014. Miss. St. won 45-31. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

THE FACTS

Kentucky at Mississippi State

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.

TV: SEC Network (play-by-play Brent Musburger; analysis Jesse Palmer; sideline Maria Taylor)

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 190, Sirius Channel 83

Records: UK 4-2 (2-2 SEC), Mississippi State 5-2 (1-2 SEC)

Series: Is tied at 21 apiece.

Last meeting: Mississippi State won 45-31 on Oct. 25, 2014, in Commonwealth Stadium

Favorite: Mississippi State by 11 points

THREE KEY QUESTIONS

1. Can Kentucky break Dan Mullen's hold?

When Mississippi State chose the former Florida offensive coordinator as its head coach, Kentucky led the all-time series with MSU 21-15. Since then, Mullen is 6-0 against the Cats. It is a painful 6-0, too, because Mississippi State, as UK's permanent West Division rival, is a team the Wildcats need to beat with some regularity if the Kentucky program is to succeed. Interestingly, UK has recently played State better in Starkville than Lexington. During Mullen's six-year streak, MSU has won four times at Kentucky by an average margin of 11.5 points, while winning twice at home by a 6.5 points average. Before Mullen, Kentucky had won three of the last four games vs. the Bulldogs played in Davis Wade Stadium.

2. Does UK have any hope of containing Dak Prescott?

Kentucky's struggles against mobile quarterbacks in 2015 have been well-documented. MSU's Dak Prescott might be the best dual-threat QB in the country. Kentucky has seen first-hand the different ways the 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior can beat you. Two years ago in Starkville, Prescott hurt the Cats with his arm, completing 23 of 31 passes for 268 yards and two TDs in a 28-22 MSU win. Last year in Lexington, Prescott bested UK with his legs, running for 88 yards and two TDs in a 45-31 victory. To have any hope of an upset victory, Kentucky has to find a way to D-up Dak.

3. Is Matt Elam ready for prime time?

The season-ending broken leg that has sidelined nose guard Melvin Lewis takes away a player Mark Stoops called "a big part of the heart and soul" of the UK defense. It also means Matt Elam's developmental time is over. It was a major recruiting coup when Stoops and Kentucky lured Elam away from Alabama and Nick Saban on signing day, 2014. Yet even with scholarship offers from gold standard football programs such as Notre Dame, Ohio State and the Crimson Tide, the 6-7, 360-pound Elam was a raw prospect who needed time to bloom. We'll start to find out Saturday if the big man is now ready to assume a big role for the Cats.

THE MOOD

Is apprehensive. Kentucky could not pull out a winnable game against a struggling Auburn team on ESPN Thursday night football, and now enters the toughest stretch of its schedule — at Mississippi State, Tennessee, at Georgia. One win out of those three would all but assure UK bowl eligibility. One win out of those three would also keep alive hope for Kentucky's first eight-win regular season since 1984. A veteran Mississippi State (only one starter that is not a senior or junior) will not be an easy mark, but UK usually plays well in Davis Wade Stadium.

MARK STORY

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