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Winless Kentucky Seeks Breakthrough Vs. Mississippi State

Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello (3) looks to throw the ball during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Arkansas in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello (3) looks to throw the ball during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Arkansas in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

Kentucky is still looking for its first win of the season after expecting to contend for the Southeastern Conference.

Kentucky is still looking for its first win of the season after expecting to contend for the Southeastern Conference.

Unlike last fall when the Wildcats started the season 0-2 they have little room for error. Theyre not playing a 12-game schedule with non-conference opponents and dont time to halt a three-game slide and finish.

Kentucky will have to avoid mistakes against Mississippi State (1-1,) to get its first win Saturday night against a tall task against a pass-heavy Air Raid offense that features playmakers who are proving to be dangerous after making the catch.

Asked this week if overcoming past adversity can help Kentucky against the Bulldogs, coach Mark Stoops said, It better. We need it to. … When you fall to 0-2, you can respond with a reality check of the situation of it is what it is, and you can fold to the pressure.

Or, you can rise above it, man up, own it and move on.

Statistically, the Wildcats have done many things right in outgaining Auburn 384-324 and Mississippi 559-459. They lack a victory to show for it because of turnovers and defensive breakdowns that paved the way for the Tigers and Rebels to win respectively.

Last weeks 42-41 loss to Ole Miss was especially painful for Kentucky, which allowed 21 unanswered points after leading 28-14 in the third quarter before rallying to force overtime. The Wildcats scored a touchdown on their possession but missed the extra point, while the up-tempo Rebels made their PAT for the win.

We know that we let two slip away, Kentucky outside linebacker Jamar Boogie Watson said. We know that theres much to improve upon, and much better that we can do as a defense. Everybody is intrigued and anxious to show how good of a defense we really can be.

Now comes another high-flying threat in the Bulldogs and first-year coach Mike Leach, who orchestrated the Air Raid scheme as Kentuckys offensive coordinator under Hal Mumme in 1997-98. Not surprisingly, State enters with the SECs top passing attack (468 yards per game) and No. 2 offense (516.0).

An error-filled 21-14 home loss to the Razorbacks knocked the Bulldogs out of the Top 25. The stunning defeat showed offensive growing pains Leach said Mississippi State must overcome quickly.

Especially against a Kentucky team looking to reach a fifth consecutive bowl game.

Tough, gritty team, Leach said of the Wildcats while pivoting back to his own squads growth.

We have to be a steady, consistent team. We cant rest on any level of perceived success. We have to be the same team every snap, and I didnt think we were.

Some other things to watch when Mississippi State visits Kentucky:

LOOKING TO REGROUP

Bulldogs quarterback K.J. Costello tossed three interceptions against Arkansas and managed 313 yards passing after a SEC-record 623-yard opening performance at defending national champion LSU. The Stanford graduate transfer remains the conferences top passer at 468 yards per game with an efficiency rating of 140.7 that ranks eighth. Costello has six TDs, but also five interceptions.

SHARING THE LOAD

Kentuckys SEC-leading rushing attack (276.5 yards) will likely be split between A.J. Rose and Chris Rodriguez Jr. with No. 3 runner Kavosiey Smoke out with a broken rib. Rodriguez and Rose posted career highs of 133 and 117 yards respectively to lead a 408-yard effort against Ole Miss.

GO-TO GUYS

Costellos favorite target has been senior Osirus Mitchell, who ranks third in SEC receiving yardage (122.0 per game) and seventh with six catches per outing with two touchdowns. Hes also sixth in all-purpose yardage with 122.0 per game. Kentuckys Josh Ali is third in the conference with eight receptions per game and ninth in yardage at 93.0.

BULLDOG-ISH DEFENSE

Mississippi State can stop teams as well and enters just behind Georgia in total defense (350.0). The Bulldogs are allowing just 71.5 yards rushing per game and have record a league-best 10 sacks.

TURNOVER BATTLE

Kentuckys defense seeks its first takeaway and enters with a league-low margin of minus-4 with Mississippi State, which has posted two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. We just have to continue doing what weve been doing, Wildcats linebacker Jamin Davis said. The results will show for themselves.

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25


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