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October 23, 2013Mississippi State is back from a bye week where they healed some injuries and prepared for the second half of the schedule with six-consecutive conference games. The first of those conference games is Kentucky for a Thursday night game at Davis Wade Stadium.
Who: Kentucky (1-5) vs. Mississippi State (3-3)
Where: Starkville, Miss.; Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field
When: Thursday, October 24; 6:30 p.m CT on ESPN
Series Record: UK leads, 21-19. The Last Time: MSU, 27-14 in Lexington
About the Wildcats
Kentucky loves their basketball, that's no surprise. One thing that the administration has tried to change with the new hire is to make football more of a priority. In the SEC, football is king. Football generates the money within the conference. While the Wildcats generate a whole lot from the basketball program, they'd like to make football just as much a priority in the fanbase.
So far, the recruiting has sparked interests from nationally ranked recruits that Kentucky can be a football power. While it hasn't transferred on the field just yet, a strong finish in February when letters of intent come in could put the Wildcats on the map.
Kentucky hit the road to find a program-changing head coach following the firing of Joker Phillips. They found a proven recruiter and strong defensive mind in Mark Stoops who made his living the last 10 years as a defensive coordinator. Stoops led Arizona and Florida State's defenses to among the tops in the country during his time and was widely respected as one of the best defensive minds in football as well as a tireless recruiter.
After just a short period of recruiting the 2013 class shortly after being hired, Stoops was able to get in the game with several big-time recruits and even steal away one of MSU's top defensive end prospects, Za'Darius Smith, away before signing day. This season, Stoops has already built the number seven class in the country despite a 1-5 start and, if he holds on to it, has a solid foundation beginning next season.
The Offense: Kentucky has always seemed to be stagnant on offense but they always seem to have one or two playmakers that can change a game just by themselves. One of those players is junior college transfer Javess Blue. Stoops went after several JUCO standouts to try and speed the program's progress up a tad. While the win/loss record isn't where they would like, Blue has been an immediate impact player.
The junior leads the team in receiving hauling in 24 catches for 319 yards and two touchdowns. He will be the primary target in a young receiving corp led by juniors and sophomores.
The quarterback position is still not settled by the Wildcats and won't be settled any time soon. As it was last year, Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith lead the way in a two-quarterback system as sophomore. Whitlow has been known as more of the runner out of the two and this season has seen some success rushing 49 times for 238 yards and three touchdowns, already passing his numbers from last season. Smith has thrown for 710 yards with five touchdowns and an interception on the season. Neither have been significant threats, but both are extremely talented and show signs of problems that can be created for the defense.
Kentucky has had a long list of solid running backs that have had productive careers at the school and another one comes into his senior season in Raymond Sanders. Sanders leads the way as a starter and has rushed for 255 yards on 52 carries with a touchdown. A true freshman has been the surprise for the team, however. JoJo Kemp is averaging nearly six yards a carry on the year leading the team with 260 yards on just 44 carries. The tandem of those two will be something the Bulldog defense must keep an eye on.
Defense: There's one player in particular to start with on defense and he comes off the ball on the defensive line. One of MSU's top targets this time a year ago, Za'Darius Smith came out of nearby East Mississippi Community College in Scooba and is the ultimate pass-rushing threat. Smith stands 6-6, 254 pounds and has already made his impact immediately. The JUCO transfer has 4.5 sacks through six games and a total of 26 tackles. Keeping him away from Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell will be a challenge.
Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph are two more threats that can create pressure for the quarterback as well combining for eight sacks in their career. Alvin Dupree has had a solid junior year as he has collected 3.5 sacks of his own making the defensive line a serious threat this season.
One of the biggest threats on the defense is the linebacker group who Prescott and coaches talked about the most this week. An agile group that gets sideline-to-sideline easily, they're led by senior Avery Williamson who among the conference's leaders in tackles with 64. Williamson has started each of the last 18 games and played every game of his four-year career. He has lots of experience.
Kentucky is near the bottom of the SEC in most statistical categories and will have a challenge with the Bulldogs come tomorrow night, but there are threats in the defense and offense that could spring the upset on MSU if the opportunity presents itself.
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