For the second time in a 5-2 season, Kentucky football fans are asking the question that has to become second nature — if not now, when?

A month ago, they wondered if the Wildcats couldn’t take advantage of a weak Florida squad and a 13-point advantage to end a three-decade losing streak, when can they ever?

This week, the question is: If Kentucky can’t even be relatively competitive with a fairly average Mississippi State team with a likely top 25 spot and a chance to end up in the upper echelon of the SEC on the line, when will they ever?

Kentucky’s 5-1 start had been underwhelming, as the Wildcats were outgained by Eastern Michigan and Southern Mississippi, among others. Still, there was little to prepare Big Blue Nation for the thorough domination that Mississippi State handed out on Saturday.

Kentucky had held opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game — third best in the SEC. State racked up 282 yards on the ground. Kentucky had controlled its turnovers, but gave up two in this game, one of which was returned for an 84-yard touchdown. Mostly, Kentucky just got whipped in the trenches, as a 17-7 halftime deficit mushroomed to the final score of 45-7.

“The game got away from us very quickly,” Mark Stoops said afterward.

For the optimist, Kentucky still has several chances to salvage a positive season. Stoops is certainly on better footing than fellow fifth-year SEC head coaches Butch Jones and Bret Bielema. A pair of home games against Tennessee and Mississippi are eminently winnable. A road game at Vandy no longer looks as daunting as it did a month ago. For that matter, state rival Louisville is incredibly up-and-down, and could be upset fodder again.

For the pessimist, this season starts to look increasingly like Stoops’ 2014 campaign, when a 5-1 start became a 5-7 season. Kentucky will likely be a mild favorite in the next three games, but could conceivably drop all three — particularly if its passing game again goes 14-for-30 for 145 yards and a pair of interceptions. The ground game wasn’t much better, as highly-regarded sophomore back Benny Snell never got going, with seven carries going for 18 yards.

The frustration boiling up within the team apparently extended to the locker room, as assistant coach Vince Morrow could be heard over Stoops’ post-game comments lambasting someone within the Kentucky locker room in his bluest of blue language. It probably mirrored some of the thoughts of Wildcats fans in Starkville and elsewhere in front of their televisions.

Kentucky’s momentum for the season now hinges on a meeting with Tennessee, which has won 31 of the past 32 meetings in the series. While the Wildcats could certainly still put a winning season and a bowl appearance together without beating the Vols, it looks like the game is UK’s best chance to revive their season and log a victory of program-improving significance.

“When Monday comes, it is time for Tennessee,” said junior linebacker Josh Allen. “There is no more Mississippi State.”

That sounds fine to Big Blue Nation.