The Edge: UK vs. Mississippi State

UK run defense vs. running back Vick Ballard/quarterback Chris Relf

Unfortunately for the Cats, their point of weakness, the run defense, happens to play to the biggest strength of Mississippi State, which averages 219.2 rushing yards per game, good for second in the Southeastern Conference behind Auburn’s 303.2 rushing yards per game.

The Cats surrendered 311 yards rushing to Auburn three weeks ago, despite the fact they knew the run was coming. Likewise, Mississippi State has had success running the ball despite unbalanced play calling (353 run plays compared to 173 pass plays). Opponents know the run is coming, but that doesn’t make stopping it any easier.

Ballard averages 6.6 yards per carry and is tied for the SEC lead with 12 rushing touchdowns.

Ballard is only one component in the effective rushing offense, however. Relf is a mobile quarterback who throws the ball a measly 14.25 times per game, but has racked up 428 yards on the ground.

In recent history, the Bulldogs have had success on the ground against the Cats. Last year, MSU senior Anthony Dixon ran for a school-record 252 yards in the Bulldogs’ 31-24 win against the Cats at Commonwealth Stadium. Another big day could be in store for the Bulldogs Saturday.

Edge: Ballard/Relf

Quarterback Mike Hartline vs. MSU secondary

With senior tailback Derrick Locke’s status uncertain for the third consecutive week, Hartline, who was recently added to the Manning Award watch list, and the passing game will be the most trusted source of the Cats’ offensive output.

Hartline threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns in a losing cause against Georgia last week, while the Bulldogs’ secondary gave up 236 yards and a touchdown through the air to a 2-5 UAB squad.

Hartline and the Cats’ 23rd ranked passing offense in the nation (and second-ranked in the SEC) also received a boost when sophomore wide receiver and one of Hartline’s favorite targets, La’Rod King was cleared to play this Saturday after spraining his knee against Georgia. King has four touchdown catches the last two games.

Edge: Hartline

UK vs. Struggle for motivation

Now that a SEC East division title is out of reach, the Cats claim that getting to a higher profile bowl game is the next goal for the team.

Entering the home stretch of the season as losers of four of five games is not good for any team’s momentum. Three of the Cats’ four losses have been winnable games, which has taken a toll on the team’s psyche.

“It gets tough when you get in those situations to not give up and to not resort to bad things during the game,” Hartline said. “But we’re proud of the way our team keeps fighting and keeps playing. I think teams in the past would have let down, would have just thrown in the towel.”

The players have to rise up to the challenge, starting this week on the road against a top-25 team, because settling for mediocrity will most likely mean another postseason trip to a bowl game in Tennessee for the fifth straight year.

Edge: Struggle for motivation

Final Edge: Sizeable edge for Mississippi State