Kentucky at Mississippi State
When: 4 p.m., Saturday
Where: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss.
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Records: Kentucky 5-1 (2-1 SEC), Mississippi State 4-2 (1-2 SEC)
Series: Tied 22-22
Last meeting: Kentucky won 40-38 on Oct. 22, 2016, in Lexington
Line: Mississippi State is favored by 10 points
The story line
Kentucky seeks to secure bowl eligibility by earning its first victory in Starkville since 2008. Until Austin MacGinnis won last year’s game with a 51-yard field goal on the final play, UK was 0-7 against Dan Mullen-coached teams. For Mark Stoops and his troops, a victory at MSU in the Bulldogs’ homecoming game could propel Kentucky into one or both of the national Top 25 polls for the first time since Nov. 11, 2007.
On the spot
Kentucky offensive line. A UK offensive front that has struggled must contain one of the best interior defensive linemen in the SEC. Mississippi State sophomore nose guard Jeffery Simmons has 31 tackles, four tackles for loss 3.5 quarterbacks sacks, two forced fumbles, two blocked kicks/punts and two touchdowns (blocked punt return, fumble recovery return). If Kentucky continues to use redshirt freshman Drake Jackson as its primary center, Simmons will be a severe test for the ex-Woodford County star.
The big threat
Nick Fitzgerald. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior quarterback is the type of dual threat that has long tormented UK defenses. On the season, Fitzgerald has run for 446 yards and 11 touchdowns and thrown for 1,024 yards and 10 scores. Kentucky’s best chance at victory comes if it can limit Fitzgerald on the ground and make him try to beat the Cats through the air. The Richmond Hills, Ga., product is completing only 54.9 percent of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions.
Is wait and see. A succession of close Kentucky wins over teams not perceived to be especially strong has failed to stir the Big Blue Nation as much as one would expect from a 5-1 Wildcats start. However, a road victory at Mississippi State would be a big step toward legitimizing UK’s start and would set up a charged atmosphere in Kroger Field for a visit from struggling Tennessee on Oct. 28.