Mark Story

How Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State match up — with a game prediction

How No. 17 Kentucky (7-3, 5-3 SEC) and Middle Tennessee State (7-3, 6-1 Conference USA) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Since a 3-of-9 passing performance in Kentucky’s win over Vanderbilt, Terry Wilson has completed 70.2 percent (66-of-94) of his throws in the three subsequent games and averaged 221.7 passing yards. For the season, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound redshirt sophomore has thrown for 1,386 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Middle Tennessee State senior Brent Stockstill is the Blue Raiders’ career leader in passing yards (11,249), touchdown passes (98) and 300-yards-plus passing games (17). The son of MTSU head man Rick Stockstill has made seven prior starts against SEC teams, completing 59.7 percent of his passes with 11 TDs vs. five picks. Stockstill is 1-6 against SEC foes, with the win a 51-45 shootout at Missouri in 2016.

Advantage: Middle Tennessee State

Brent Stockstill passing.JPG
Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill (12), the son of MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill, is the Blue Raiders’ career leader in passing yards and touchdown throws. Mark Humphrey Associated Press

Running backs

The second five games of the Kentucky season have not gone as well for Wildcats star Benny Snell as the first five did. The 5-11, 225-pound junior averaged 127.8 rushing yards a game during the Cats’ 5-0 start. In its most recent five contests, UK has gone 2-3 and Snell has been held under 100 yards rushing four times. MTSU redshirt freshman Chaton Mobley pulverized Western Kentucky two weeks ago, running 25 times for a school-freshman record 198 yards. That was 70 more yards than he had gained in the season’s seven prior games combined. In last week’s 48-32 win at UTEP, the 6-1, 235-pound product of Knoxville, Tenn., ran for 53 yards.

Advantage: Kentucky

Wide receivers

Kentucky seniors Dorian Baker and David Bouvier will play for the final time at Kroger Field. A 6-3, 205-pound product of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Baker was suspended last week at Tennessee. He needs one catch to reach 100 for his UK career. A former walk-on, the 5-9, 168-pound Bouvier was placed on scholarship before this season. The ex-Lexington Catholic star had a touchdown catch in UK’s streak-busting win at Florida and made two crucial catches during Kentucky’s frantic, game-winning drive at Missouri. Middle Tennessee junior Ty Lee caught 10 passes for 158 yards last week at UTEP. On the season, the 5-9, 178-pound product of Moultrie, Ga., has a team-best 51 receptions for 621 yards and five TDs.

Advantage: Middle Tennessee State

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Kentucky senior wide receiver Dorian Baker (2) will play his final game at Kroger Field Saturday. Ken Weaver

Tight ends

Kentucky senior C.J. Conrad scored the Cats’ sole TD in last week’s 24-7 loss at Tennessee, a 19-yard catch. For his UK career, Conrad has 73 receptions and 11 TDs. The 6-5, 242-pound LaGrange, Ohio, product has also been valuable for his physicality as a blocker. MTSU uses a four wide-receiver set in offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s Air Raid system. At 6-foot, 245-pounds, Z receiver Tavares Thomas (22 catches, 126 yards, three TDs) is the most physical presence among the Blue Raiders wide-outs.

Advantage: Kentucky



Offensive line

The all-senior right side of Kentucky’s front, tackle George Asafo-Adjei and guard Bunchy Stallings, have each been chosen SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week twice this season. Much praised early in the season, UK’s line has come under scrutiny as the Cats have stagnated offensively in recent games. Middle Tennessee right guard Chandler Brewer and left tackle Carlos Johnson anchor a front that has allowed 26 sacks in 2018.

Advantage: Kentucky

Bunchy Stallings.JPG
Kentucky senior right guard Bunchy Stallings (65) was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week this season after UK’s victories over Florida and Mississippi State. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Defensive line

Kentucky senior tackle Adrian Middleton has started 35 straight games. The 6-3, 298-pound South Warren High School product has 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack this season. Senior nose guard Tymere Dubose has started three games in 2018 and has 1.5 TFL and a QB hurry. MTSU ends Trae Philpots (30 tackles, six TFL, three sacks) and Jahmal Jones (29, 5.5, two) are relatively undersized (245 and 257 pounds, respectively) but productive.

Advantage: Kentucky

Adrian Middleton at Florida.JPG
Kentucky senior defensive tackle Adrian Middleton (99), a product of South Warren High School, has been a three-year starter for UK. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Linebackers

Senior OLB/rush end Josh Allen has produced one of the great seasons in UK football history. The Montclair, N.J., product leads the SEC in sacks (11), tackles for loss (15.5) and forced fumbles (five). Senior WLB Jordan Jones has made 243 career tackles. Middle Tennessee’s linebackers are play-makers. SLB DQ Thomas leads the Blue Raiders in sacks (six). WLB Khalil Brooks leads MTSU in TFL (11). MLB Darius Harris is second in tackles (70).

Advantage: Kentucky

Defensive backs

Kentucky fans will say farewell to UK’s entire starting secondary as safeties Darius West and Mike Edwards and cornerbacks Derrick Baity, Lonnie Johnson and Chris Westry are all seniors. After some struggles earlier in their respective careers, the UK senior DBs are going out strong, as the Wildcats are third in the SEC (allowing 180.4 yards a game) against the pass. MTSU senior free safety Wesley Bush has a team-high four interceptions. Sophomore strong safety Reed Blankenship leads the Blue Raiders in tackles (80). In Middle’s 50-17 victory over Old Dominion on Oct. 27, Blankenship played a game for the ages — 17 tackles, three TFL, a sack and an interception he returned 100 yards for a touchdown.

Advantage: Kentucky

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Kentucky cornerback Chris Westry (21) is one of five seniors who play major roles in the Wildcats secondary who will play in Lexington for the final time Saturday. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Special teams

In losses the past two weeks, Kentucky has been hurt in the kicking game. Both Georgia and Tennessee set up their first scores with long punt returns. Last week at UT, UK true freshman place-kicker Chance Poore missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt and had a 30-yard try blocked. Senior long snapper Tristan Yeomans and place-kicker Miles Butler will end their home careers. MTSU punter Matt Bonadies has stopped 20 of his 41 kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Place-kicker Crews Holt is accurate on field goals inside 40 yards (8-of-8) and inaccurate outside of 40 yards (1-of-6, long of 42).

Advantage: Even

Prediction

Kentucky 27, Middle Tennessee State 17

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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