Mississippi State

Rejuvenated Kentucky presents challenge for Mississippi State

JIM LYTLE/ASSOCIATED PRESSMississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott (15) receives blocking from teammate Justin Malone (70) against Louisiana Tech.
JIM LYTLE/ASSOCIATED PRESSMississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott (15) receives blocking from teammate Justin Malone (70) against Louisiana Tech. AP

Two years ago when Kentucky came to Starkville, Wildcats coach Mark Stoops was trying to find his first SEC win. The Wildcats had already been competitive despite their rough start and things were no different when they took the Bulldogs to the wire and had a last-minute drive for the win come up short.

Since that 28-22 defeat in Starkville, Kentucky is a brand new team. Stoops has recruited better, his team is stronger and he's a better coach over the last three years. Add in the fact that MSU and Kentucky has become a rivalry over the years and Saturday's game is dangerous for the Bulldogs.

"They are our locked opponent across divisions and we play them every year and I think that is what it is," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "I think they are a team that are trying to do what we did last year and are trying to get where we are and they are not far from it."

Prescott witnessed how easily a loss could come to Kentucky last season. MSU went to Lexington and had to fight off a feisty bunch of Wildcats to a 45-31 win just a game after claiming the No. 1 spot.

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Big-game QB

A key cog in that ball game was then-sophomore Patrick Towles who had well over 400 yards of total offense. Dan Mullen has a quarterback on his roster that Towles holds a lot of similarities and he's going to be one to watch.

"He is going to step up in big games. They know this is a big game," Mullen said. "He tried to put the team on his shoulders last year, running and throwing. He had a huge game at their place."

Big loss

Defending Towles 252 passing yards per game is going to be a tough task if the reports are true that potential early-round draft pick Will Redmond is out for the season with a torn ACL. Mullen side-stepped the report and told a fan on his call-in show to "buy a ticket and show up on Saturday."

Whether Redmond plays or not, MSU's defense should be prepared for Towles. Kentucky hasn't been able to establish much of a run game this season, focusing on a pass rush seems critical for the Bulldog defensive line.

Losing Redmond would be a big blow for Mullen, but he likes the way his team has developed since the season-opening win over Southern Miss.

"We are a lot different. At that point of the year, that's so early in the season that you are trying to figure out who you are as a team," Mullen said. "Guys have gotten more comfortable playing. We rotate more players now that guys are getting experience on the field and playing more. There are guys who are a lot more comfortable within the system.

"Young players more comfortable in the system, making plays. Older players looking at what we are doing well, offensively and defensively. We look at what is working within our package and what we are executing at a high level to utilize our talents. We are going to have a little more identity of what our team is this year at this point."

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