Trick or treat: No. 12 Kentucky travels to personal house of horrors in Starkville
Kentucky is the nation’s 12th-ranked team, but you can expect Mississippi State to roll out the welcome mat for Saturday’s SEC contest.
The Wildcats have dropped their past five games in Starkville, with the past three setbacks coming by a combined score of 115-36.
Kentucky hasn’t beaten the Bulldogs in Mississippi since 2008. In that game, star wide receiver Randall Cobb played about half of the game at quarterback and threw for one score and rushed for another in a 14-13 win.
The Wildcats (6-1, 4-1 SEC) look to end their troubles at this house of horrors on Halloween weekend, though ninth-year coach Mike Stoops is stumped to describe the reason for the difficulties in Starkville.
“I can’t put my finger on any one thing,” Stoops said during a press conference. “There were times when we were down there and weren’t really in a good game. There were times when we had a chance to steal one. There were games when we weren’t very good, they were a better football team than us.”
Second-year Mississippi State coach Mike Leach isn’t concerned about the history. He sees his Bulldogs (4-3, 2-2) facing a big challenge against a team coming off a bye week.
“This is a really solid team,” Leach said of the Wildcats. “They’re going to play hard. They’ve had some close ones that they’ve gotten out of. That’s the biggest thing. They are guys that play hard and play together.”
Kentucky rattled off six straight wins to open the season to reach No. 11 in the rankings before being outclassed 30-13 by top-ranked Georgia on Oct. 16.
Star running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. never got untracked and rushed for just 7 yards on seven carries and caught four passes for 10 yards.
For the season, Rodriguez sports a 6.1 average per carry while rushing for 775 yards and five touchdowns. He also has two receiving scores.
Wildcats quarterback Will Levis has completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 1,326 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Mississippi State is fresh off a 45-6 shellacking of host Vanderbilt last Saturday. Will Rogers tossed a career-high four touchdown passes while accumulating 384 yards and two interceptions.
Rogers has thrown for 300 or more yards in five straight games and six of seven. He has 2,546 yards and 18 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
Five different Bulldogs caught five passes against Vanderbilt, and 13 players had at least one reception.
“It is important that we have good distribution,” Leach said. “We definitely want that. We had good distribution the other night where you want all the skilled positions to contribute to the offensive effort. That was good to see.”
Defensively, Bulldogs cornerback Emmanuel Forbes has three interceptions this season and eight in his career.
Kentucky has just three interceptions as a team this season, which might be just fine with Leach.
In last season’s 24-2 win in Lexington, the Wildcats registered six interceptions of KJ Costello (four) and Rogers (two). Linebacker Jordan Wright returned one for a touchdown.
Kentucky would like some of that same interception magic on the visit to Starkville as it looks to end its recent road futility in the series.
“You name it. You’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to play better,” Stoops said of ending the misery. “No excuses; we’ve just got to go down there and play better.”
–Field Level Media