Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Odds: Mississippi State opened as a 1.5-point favorite. The line bumped up to between 3.5 and 4 points depending on location.
Neither Mississippi State (2-4; 1-2) nor Kentucky (3-3; 2-2) have looked particularly impressive in the 2016 season, as life has been rough for both the Bulldogs and Wildcats as we’ve reached the midpoint of the season.
The Bulldogs have sputtered to an under-.500 record with inconsistencies abound through the air on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have been especially porous on defense and despite having one of the best rushing attacks in the country, a poor passing game has stunted them to their .500 record to this point.
In short: When these two teams meet on Saturday night in Lexington, it’s anyone’s guess what happens, and defense may not wind up being the story, at least from a success standpoint.
3 things to watch:
1. A big test for ‘Boom’ Williams: Stanley ‘Boom’ Williams has been one of the most productive runners in the SEC this season. Not only has the sophomore tailback amassed 540 yards on the ground this season, he’s done so at a rate of 7.1 yards per attempt. That mark is better than that of Rawleigh Williams III, Ralph Webb, Kerryon Johnson, Kamryn Pettway and Nick Chubb.
With that all said, Mississippi State has held the line relatively in check this season against the run. The Bulldogs rank 22nd in Rushing S&P+ defense, 54th in Rushing Success Rate and 25th in Rushing IsoPPP through their first six games of the year. Their stuff rate is an impressive 24.9 percent, good for 15th in the country, and over six percent better than the average of 18.7 percent around the country.
This will be a big test for ‘Boom,’ who was only able to pick up 88 yards combined against Alabama and Florida, both of whom rank higher than Mississippi State in at least one of the aforementioned rush defense categories (Alabama ranks 2nd in both Rushing S&P+ and Rush Success Rate; Florida ranks 25th and 19th at this point). Will those troubles resurface, or will his talent flourish?
2. Trouble through the air: Neither team’s pass defense has been all that special this season. In Passing S&P+, Passing success rate, and Passing IsoPPP, both teams’ average finish hovers around 69 (Kentucky) and 79 (Mississippi State). While being in the Top 100 is nothing to really frown upon, that hovers around the middle of the road, and teams aren’t exactly shaking in their boots with regards to throwing against them.
Which... is what makes this an interesting matchup, as neither pass offense has had much success either. Kentucky has been especially poor, ranking 90th and 126th in Passing S&P+ and Success Rate, and Mississippi State hasn’t been special, checking in at 61st and 69th in those aforementioned categories.
What will give on Saturday night?
3. Whose premier pass rushers make an impact?: Kentucky and Mississippi State each have at least one player who has picked up at least 3.0 sacks this season. The Bulldogs have senior defensive lineman A.J. Jefferson at their disposal, who has picked up 3.0 sacks on the year. The ‘Cats meanwhile have a pair of sack masters as sophomores Josh Allen and Denzil Ware have notched a combined 9.0 sacks -- 4.5 each -- in their belts this year.
Whichever pass rusher(s) get after it the most could tilt their team towards the win column, that much is for certain.