Mississippi State

Mississippi State looks to start new streak vs. Kentucky Saturday

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) looks to the sideline for the play to call during a game against BYU Saturday in Starkville.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) looks to the sideline for the play to call during a game against BYU Saturday in Starkville. Associated Press

After three weeks without a win, Dan Mullen and the Mississippi State Bulldogs (4-2, 1-2 SEC) were happy to add to the left side of the win/loss column last week against Brigham Young.

Mullen, with the win, moved to 65-44 all-time at MSU in his nine seasons and is now tied with College Football Hall of Famer Allyn McKeen for second place in Starkville. He’s only behind another Hall of Fame coach in Jackie Sherrill, who won 75 in 13 seasons.

Seven of Mullen’s wins in his first eight years came against Kentucky, this week’s opponent at 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon on the SEC Network. The Wildcats have typically been a tough out in all seven of those wins and last season Mark Stoops led the ‘Cats to their first win over MSU since 2008.

This year’s team enters this week’s game 5-1 and just outside of the top 25.

Mullen believes Kentucky could easily have an unblemished mark.

“They’re a play away from being undefeated,” Mullen said. “They should be undefeated and in the top 25 easily. It’s a great challenge for us.”

The Wildcats lost a heartbreaking ball game, 28-27, to the Florida Gators on September 23, but they were in position to take that one away from the visitors. The team has made its money on the defensive front where they rank 10th nationally in rushing defense, surrendering 97 yards per game.

With that being the Bulldogs’ strength at 262 yards a game, something has to give.

“They’re very multiple,” Mullen said. “They’re going to be three down (linemen), four down, they’ll pressure you and show a lot of different coverage looks. They’ve got a lot of length on the outside at the corner positions so they present a lot of different challenges.”

Mullen Up for change

With the Bulldogs having the Wildcats as their permanent cross-division foes, Mullen mentioned on Monday that he wouldn’t be opposed to changing things in the future. The problem for him is he doesn’t know how to make it work just yet.

“I’m great with however they do it. I don’t know if I have the solution,” Mullen said. “We play Kentucky all the time. We’ve played South Alabama and Louisiana Tech the same amount of times as we’ve played Tennessee and Vanderbilt combined since I’ve been here.

“It’d be cool to do it other ways, but I don’t know the solution. I have my hands full trying to figure out how to win football games for us. I think other people worry about the loss of rivalries, but you also miss out on opportunities to play other teams.”

MSU has played Kentucky every season since 1990 with State holding the 17-10 edge during that stretch. The series all-time is tied at 22 going into Saturday with MSU winning eight of the last 10.

Nice start for freshman

With the ankle injury to senior left tackle Martinas Rankin occurring in the first half at Auburn two games ago, MSU put redshirt freshman Greg Eiland into the fire and he played all of the second half. Eiland got his first start against BYU last week and impressed his coach.

“I thought he did a solid job,” Mullen said. “There are a couple of things here and there that he has to improve on. The thing that was impressive to me is his demeanor in the game. I think he handled himself pretty well on the field and never got flustered.”

Mullen had no update on the return of Rankin and said they would know for sure whether or not he will play against Kentucky by Wednesday or Thursday afternoon. If there were to be any other injuries at tackle, Mullen said there are options.

“There’s a lot of different ways that we could go,” Mullen said. “There’s not one way we would go right now.”

Among those options would be moving center Elgton Jenkins to tackle and giving the ball to sophomore center Harrison Moon in the middle.

Game plan

Who: Kentucky vs. Mississippi State

When: 3 p.m., Saturday

Where: Starkville

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 1580 AM