Football, huh? What is this? With basketball season underway and all and the bye week on top of that you must admit you gave pause to more football talks at the start of the week. But the Cats are back in action this time for a mid-week contest against a perennial lower-tier foe that often is a key to a make-it or break-it season for Kentucky. The Bulldogs of Mississippi State are in a very similar position historically as Kentucky football, being beat up by the conference and never able to build a solid foundation for the future. Well, times are changing in Starkville with Dan Mullen at the helm, and hopefully the same can be said in a couple of years with Stoops in Lexington.
Kentucky and Mississippi State last met in 2012 in the sixth game of the season. It was the third-straight game for the Cats against a ranked opponent, having just faced No. 14 Florida and No. 6 South Carolina. MSU entered the game at a perfect 5-0 while the Cats limped in just 1-4, with its lone victory over Kent State in week two.
Mississippi State opened the game with a 13-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that lasted nearly six minutes. Quarterback Tyler Russell completed six passes and running back LaDarius Perkins did the rest. The drive was capped off on a 10-yard pass from Russell to Adrian Marcus to put the Bulldogs on top early. The Cats struggled to answer, punting the ball away on back-to-back three-and-outs on its first two possessions, but found the scoring column on the third try, an 80-yard drive at the start of the 2nd quarter orchestrated by Patrick Towles and helped by a 32-yard strike to senior La’Rod King for the touchdown.
It was four-straight punts after that as Towles failed to make a difference and inserting Jalen Whitlow only caused more confusion in the already discombobulated Wildcats offense. UK did find the end zone again in the 3rd quarter, set-up nicely by a botched punt that gave the Cats great field position. Whitlow scrambled 3-yards, but no one play stood out in the short drive.
Meanwhile Mississippi State had piled up 27 points while collecting 427 yards and 25 first downs. The Bulldogs turned the ball over twice, but the Cats did nothing with their gifts. In the end, Russell, Perkins, and receiver Chad Bumphis paved the way for an easy win in Commonwealth Stadium.
Historically, Kentucky and Mississippi State offers no real value. It’s two conference teams that both have limited success and are both trying to find its place among the SEC elite. More recently MSU has found some of that success, while UK is in the early stages of that process. It is poetic that these teams be so similar historically while sharing an even 20-20 record all-time.
The two teams first met in 1914 which resulted in a 19-13 Wildcats win. They played again in the three years following, eventually splitting the four games two apiece. Following about a 30 year hiatus, the two teams played off and on through the 1950s and into the 1980s as SEC members. And then in 1990 Kentucky and Mississippi State became a yearly contest, played every season for the last 22 years.
Kentucky lost the series in the 90s by a margin of 4-6, being outscored just shy of a touchdown per game. In the 2000s the series was split 5-5 and the average scored was 22.4 — 22.8 in favor of the Bulldogs. However, the first three games of this decade have each gone to MSU, and the margin is growing as the Cats have lost by more than 10 points per game.
Jared Lorenzen (UK, 2000-04) — Because this series is so ho-hum in general and media members and conference officials like to play up the “rivalry,” quite frankly, there just isn’t much history to go around. Lorenzen sticks out as one of the all-time greats in this series because he played all four years, and put up big numbers in each, including three out of the four where he surpassed 250 yards passing. In total, he threw for 981 yards against the Bulldogs in his career with five touchdowns.
Eric Moulds (MSU, 1993-95) — Kentucky has a good tradition of getting players to the NFL, especially recently. Mississippi State hasn’t had that kind of success, and Eric Moulds is probably the biggest name to make it in the professional ranks. He was drafted late in the 1st round in 1996 but not before piling up more than 2,000 yards receiving in his three-year career in Starkville. He hauled in 17 touchdowns and averaged more than 17 yards per catch. He also led the NCAA in kickoff return yards in 1994 when he averaged nearly 33 yards per return.
BIGGEST MOMENT FOR UK
The last victory for Kentucky came in 2008 in Starkville. Mississippi State was having a miserable season while Kentucky was just one win away from bowl eligibility for the third-straight year. The Cats trotted out names like Mike Hartline, Randall Cobb, Tony Dixon, and Kyrus Lanxter. It was a low-scoring affair as MSU put up seven points early, and held the Cats scoreless in the first half. Kentucky made it 14-7 after back-to-back touchdowns to start the 3rd quarter, but Mississippi State had a chance to tie early in the 4th off of a turnover and a quick 31-yard drive.
Then came the defining moment. Kentucky blocked the extra point. The Cats only needed one more stop and a last-minute interception to seal the 14-13 victory and earn its sixth win of the season on the road. This helped to set up Kentucky’s appearance in the Liberty Bowl and earn a victory over East Carolina.
Kentucky remains a yearly “rival” with Mississippi State in the SEC. “Rival” being used in quotations because this is truly a manufactured series that the conference insists each team have, that being an interdivision yearly opponent. It makes sense as the game remains winnable for each team and the geography isn’t unreasonable. But the rival term should be used loosely, especially with the fans in Lexington possession so much hatred for other real rivals.
Nevertheless, Mississippi State will continue to be a fixture on the Wildcats’ football schedule each and every season, and that is just fine by this writer. Dan Mullen has turned the Bulldogs into a program that demands respect and it has been encouraging to watch. This season might be a slight bump in the road, but all signs point to Mullen being the right guy for the job. It should surely give a ton of confidence to the folks of Big Blue Nation that Mark Stoops can perform the same type of turnaround from a regular pretender to an actual contender.