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Opponent Preview: Kentucky’s Special Teams

Bulldogs face the Wildcats in four days!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Belk Bowl - Virginia Tech v Kentucky

STARKVILLE, Miss. — The Mississippi State Bulldogs travel to Lexington, Kentucky, this week for a game against the 0-2 Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field. The Wildcats are coming off a 42-41 loss to Ole Miss, and special team miscues were one of the main causes of their defeat.

The Wildcats have suffered from short kickoffs and poor kickoff coverage that has led to returns well beyond the 25-yard line. Ironically, since the departure of special teams coach Dean Hood, who is now the head football coach at Murray State, the Wildcats don’t have a designated special teams coach on Mark Stoops’ staff.

Coming into Week 3, Kentucky ranks 53rd in the nation in made extra points (6-of-7), 72nd in the nation in kickoff return defense, allowing 34 yards per return, and tied for last in the nation with zero made field goals.

Senior kicker Matt Ruffolo has missed his only field goal attempt on the year, a 49-yarder, and is 6-of-7 on extra points. He had two crucial misses in Saturday’s loss to the Rebels. The Wildcats, who took a 28-14 lead with 10:41 left in the third quarter, saw their lead quickly cut in half. Ruffalo had a chance to put Kentucky back up by double-digits, but his 49-yard attempt hit the right upright and bounced back onto the field. In overtime, Ruffolo missed the extra point to make it 41-35 before the Rebels made their extra point to win 42-41.

The Wildcats do, however, have senior punter Max Duffy who ranks No. 1 in the nation in net punting at 48.86 net yards per punt on seven punts for 362 total yards. They are also tied for No. 6 in the nation in punt return defense at 0.00 yards per return.

Kentucky has also shown some talent in the return game, ranking 19th in punt return average at 11.50 yards per return and No. 33 in kickoff returns, averaging 21.25 yards per return. Senior wide receiver Josh Ali’s longest punt return on the year so far is 17 yards. Senior defensive back Zach Johnson has returned three kicks for 72 yards, while redshirt freshman running back Travis Tisdale has returned one kick for 13 yards.

The game is set for 6:30 p.m. CT and will be televised by SEC Network.