Game Day Links: Kentucky Wildcats vs. Mississippi State University Bulldogs

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Oct 12, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Maxwell Smith(11) passes the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 12, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Maxwell Smith(11) passes the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off their bye week, following their loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide, Mark Stoops and Co. are feeling rejuvenated. While the Wildcats are coming off their bye week, the Bulldogs are playing on a short week after having played last Saturday. The Wildcats injury report has ceased to look like that of a M*A*S*H unit. Unfortunately, though, Jalen Whitlow isn’t exactly full speed after suffering that ankle injury against the Crimson Tide so Maxwell Smith will make the start down in Starkville tonight.

UK’s injury report was seemingly interminable after the loss Alabama, but it’s now much more manageable. Just as importantly, the Cats have had a chance to get their minds right after four straight games against top-20 opponents.

“I think having a chance to recoup physically and mentally I think should help us going into this game,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “I think our preparation has been very good. I feel like the team is in a good place right now. I feel like we’re getting our legs back up underneath us.”

UK will need to be focused, because the Cats are in for a challenge the likes of which they haven’t seen.

“There will be some subtle changes in there because Saturday morning they’re up usually watching football if we’re playing a Saturday-night game or in between meetings, and now they’ll be sitting there watching soap operas, I guess,” Stoops joked.

With only soap operas on television on Thursday, apparently, many viewers figure to tune in for UK’s primetime appearance.

“It is nice to get the national exposure,” Stoops said. “It’s certainly nice to play a Thursday night game because I think a lot of people watch that game, so hopefully we’ll go out and represent us the right way and play tough and play the way we’re capable of. I anticipate that we will.”

Like Kentucky, Mississippi State will be after its first SEC win and will rely on a solid ground game. Quarterback Dak Prescott leads the way with 457 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

“Anytime you got the quarterback involved with the run and they’re physical, it makes you add numbers,” Stoops said. “We have to be very disciplined with all the different option that they do and all the quarterback run game and then you gotta get them on the ground. And then of course when you commit numbers, you gotta play the play-action. That’s the big thing.”

Mississippi State relies on pace heavily to move the ball, so the experience the UK defense has going against Brown’s offense in practice will be an asset.

“That’s what Coach has been telling us a lot, so we really gotta make sure we’re getting the calls in fast and make sure we’re getting lined up fast and we gotta read our keys fast as well because they’re going to try to gas us,” linebacker Avery Williamson said.

Regardless who takes the snaps, UK will have to contend with an imposing State defense.

“The first thing I see when I see State’s defense is how big they are,” Smith said. “They got tons of length, huge d-line, the biggest linebackers that we’ll probably see all season long. They’re really big and they’re really physical.”

The UK offense will also have to cope with Mississippi State’s most famous game-day tradition. As they did before a trip to South Carolina, coaches pumped in noise at practice this week, but there’s no simulating the cowbells of Davis Wade Stadium.

“If I hear the word cowbell, I think Mississippi State and I think loud and annoying,” Smith said. “I’m pretty sure that’s why they do it.”

If the last time UK went on the road is any indication, the Cats aren’t likely to wilt in the face of a little noise, as foreign as the noise may be.

Here is Mark Stoops post practice Wednesday, the last practice, before tonight’s game.

In order for the Kentucky Wildcats to celebrate their first SEC victory, there are a couple Bulldogs they’re going to need to watch out for. QB Dak Prescott and WR Jameon Lewis. Check out how the two squads match up by position, according to Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader:

QUARTERBACKS

After dual-threat Jalen Whitlow had finally secured the UK starting quarterback job, his ankle injury against Alabama opened the door for Maxwell Smith to reclaim the position against Mississippi State. Smith’s first extended playing time at UK came two years ago against MSU when he relieved an injured Morgan Newton and completed 26 of 33 passes in a 28-16 Wildcats loss. As a sophomore, State’s Dak Prescott has emerged as the best running QB (457 rushing yards) in the SEC. Returning MSU starter Tyler Russell’s season was sidetracked by a concussion but the senior pocket passer has completed 19 of 25 throws since returning.

Advantage: Mississippi State

RUNNING BACKS

Senior Raymond Sanders was Kentucky’s best offensive player (14 carries, 72 yards) against Alabama. After rushing for a combined 158 yards against Miami (Ohio) and Louisville, true freshman Jojo Kemp has found the going tougher (93 yards in three games) against SEC foes. Mississippi State standout LaDarius Perkins ran for 110 yards and a TD last season against UK. An ankle injury slowed Perkins early this year, but he ran for 81 yards vs. LSU and 83 against Bowling Green.

Advantage: Mississippi State

WIDE RECEIVERS

By number of receptions, Kentucky’s top three wide-outs are newcomers signed by Mark Stoops — junior-college transfer Javess Blue (24 catches) and true freshmen Ryan Timmons (20) and Alexander Montgomery (13). MSU’s Jameon Lewis (23 receptions, 17.1 yards a catch) is a big-play threat with three TD catches. Joe Morrow and Robert Johnson (13 catches each) are both solid.

Advantage: Mississippi State

TIGHT ENDS

Kentucky’s Anthony Kendrick caught five passes in the first two games and has two receptions since. Jordan Aumiller caught three balls at South Carolina but was shut out against Alabama. State’s Malcolm Johnson has 10 receptions for 112 yards.

Advantage: Mississippi State

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Lexington Christian product Zach West has 15 career starts at left guard, but the UK sophomore is battling former walk-on Max Godby for the starting position now. Massive MSU guard Gabe Jackson (6-foot-4, 335 pounds) is one of the best offensive linemen in the SEC. With the senior from Liberty, Miss., leading the way, State is fourth in the league in rushing (214.3 yards a game).

Advantage: Mississippi State

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Kentucky should get a boost from the expected return of standout end Alvin “Bud” Dupree, who missed the Alabama game with a strained pectoral muscle. Before his injury, the junior from Irwinton, Ga., had recorded a sack in four-straight games. Mississippi State junior defensive end Preston Smith leads the Bulldogs in sacks (two) and is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (four).

Advantage: Even

LINEBACKERS

UK middle linebacker Avery Williamson is third in the SEC in tackles with 64 (five behind league leader Ramik Wilson of Georgia) and is tied for the conference lead with two fumble recoveries. Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney (36 tackles) and Deontae Skinner (34) are the Bulldogs’ leading tacklers.

Advantage: Mississippi State

SECONDARY

Kentucky junior safety Eric Dixon had a career-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble against Alabama. Junior-college transfer cornerback Nate Willis has 17 tackles in UK’s past two games. State senior free safety Nickoe Whitley has 13 career interceptions, including three this season. Nevertheless, the MSU secondary has been throttled in SEC games — Auburn threw for 339 yards, LSU 340.

Advantage: Kentucky

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kentucky place-kicker Joe Mansour is still perfect on field-goal tries (6-for-6), but his long is only 37 yards. Landon Foster is 11th in the SEC in punting (41.6). Javess Blue is fifth in the league in kickoff returns (25.1 yards) and ninth in punt returns (3.5). MSU place-kicker Devon Bell is 5-for-10 on field goals (long of 40). Punter Baker Swedenberg is a standout (44.6 yards). Returner Jameon Lewis has been stellar on kickoffs (27.7 yards) and putrid on punts (0.3 yards).

Advantage: Kentucky

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