Last week’s Kentucky-South Carolina game failed to live up to expectation, both before and during the game. Maxwell Smith went down with an injury in the first offensive series. The Cats plugged Jalen Whitlow in and things looked good for a half. The Gamecocks had a week six matchup with No. 5 Georgia and perhaps Kentucky got Spurrier at the right time — the perfect trap game.
Not so fast. After USC remembered they are the No. 6 team in the country and have one of the elite running backs in the nation the game was over. Throw that predicted 25-11 final score out the window, because this one got ugly in a hurry. South Carolina responded after halftime with 31 unanswered points, cruising to a 21-point victory.
There is not much to look for in the final box score. Jalen Whitlow picked up 114 yards on 12-of-23 passing, but spoiled the night with two interceptions; for a true freshmen asked to enter a game against a top-10 SEC team, that’s not too shabby. The running game was average — Raymond Sanders led the charge with 59 yards on 14 carries. Dyshawn Mobley added 29 yards on four carries, while Jonathan George’s 16-yard burst in the first quarter helped him collect 27 yards on three carries.
The week ahead gets no easier. Mississippi State comes to town as one of the best Bulldog teams in recent memory. For whatever reason, WIS actually gives Kentucky a shot in this one, putting Kentucky within two scores by the final whistle, a 24-15 MSU victory. The win probability for the Cats is at 28.2 percent.
Mississippi State’s offense is certainly potent enough to put up points. Junior quarterback Tyler Russell protects the ball well and finds his go-to receivers Chad Bumphis, with five touchdown catches already, and Chris Smith. Altogether Russell is averaging nearly 8-yards per pass attempt. The banged-up Kentucky secondary will have their hands full.
The Bulldogs employ a running back platoon led by junior LaDarius Perkins who has 389 yards and five touchdowns on the season. Coach Dan Mullen will also run Derrick Milton and Josh Robinson out, both of whom are averaging over 5-yards per carry.
It’s hard to tell if WIS recognizes Max Smith is out and two freshmen quarterbacks will be asked to lead an offense against one of the better defenses in the country. Mississippi State has nine interceptions in four games. N-i-n-e. There is no doubt about it that MSU is looking to make some plays on defense — they’ll be getting after the young Wildcat signal-callers, getting pressure in the backfield to force quick decisions. Whitlow will need to use his legs to escape the pocket and let plays develop the scrappy way.
The Wildcats are quickly sinking to the bottom of major statistical categories. Just like they did one season ago: The Cats rank 104th in point-for, averaging 21.8 points per game. The defense is surrendering 30.8 points, ranked 90th in the country. Mississippi State on the other hand, is scoring 36 points per game, ranked 36th, and their defense is giving up a mere 13.3 points, good for 13th in the country.
Kentucky has their backs against the wall. And so does Joker Phillips. If there is one thing going for the Cats it’s an element of surprise. The 20th-ranked Bulldogs have played a weaker-than-weak non-conference schedule thus far. One conference game against Auburn sprinkled in doesn’t improve the situation much — the Tigers are as bad as the Cats. Jackson State, Troy and South Alabama are the three teams MSU has stacked up against. If Kentucky could somehow find a wrinkle to disrupt that easy and predictable string we could have ourselves a game. Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles will either sink or swim.