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October 24, 2013

Bulldog Keys To Victory: Kentucky

Mississippi 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

MSU is coming off of a win against Bowling Green but listening to some talk about the season, you would think it's the darkest of days in Starkville even during last week's bye. The Bulldog fans want more from Dan Mullen and the team and a win tonight in front of a national audience could help some of the frustration.

Both Kentucky and MSU are searching for their first conference win of the 2013 season and Kentucky is just looking to beat the Bulldogs again. MSU has won four-straight in the series and five out of the last six with Mullen beating UK each of his first four years at MSU.

With Kentucky still trying to find themselves under new Head Coach Mark Stoops, MSU has to take advantage and win this one. Another win means MSU is closer to their ultimate goal for the second half, making it back to a bowl game for a fourth-straight year.

Let's take a look at my three keys to victory for tonight's game.

Take The Pass Rush out of the Game: Kentucky might not be at the top of the conference defensively, but the one thing that they do very well is put pressure on the quarterback. Led by JUCO transfer Za'Darius Smith, the Wildcats have 12.0 sacks this year with Smith leading the way at 4.5.

The Bulldogs are coming off of a game against Bowling Green where left tackle Blain Clausell was out for the week with an injury suffered against LSU. Never have MSU fans realized how big a difference it is from first to second team at left tackle then against the Falcons when redshirt freshman Justin Senior struggled to hold the line down all night and the Falcons got a good push on the offensive line. MSU needs a big game out of their tackles, but they can also take the pressure off of them by using Dak Prescott's legs stepping up into the pocket and running which he's had tremendous success in during the last five ball games. When Russell enters the game, MSU needs short, intermediate passes to get the ball out of the senior quarterback's hands and take away the rush. Running the football will help open up that passing game and eventually, MSU can take advantage of a weaker secondary.

Don't let the (lack) of atmosphere kill your performance: Let's be honest, the MSU atmosphere this year has been the worst of the Mullen era. Fans are frustrated and the competition hasn't been great save for LSU. It's not getting better later tonight when students will be gone for fall break. An already weak student section the first few games will be weaker and that sometimes effects the players as much as some won't admit it.

In the Bowling Green game, I noticed players getting frustrated trying to get the crowd fired up late in a close game but there was very little buzz until fans realized that the team desperately needed a stop. For MSU, they have to put the empty seats in the back of their mind and just win the game.

Defensive Pressure early and often : Just as MSU's offense needs to take the defensive rush away from the Wildcats, their defense needs to put lots of pressure on the UK quarterbacks. Kentucky is once again without a true quarterback as Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith compete against each other in a platoon type setting. Getting in the backfield early will rattle the young quarterbacks and an early lead could put the Wildcats away.

With a running game that's not very prevalent, UK will be looking to pass on the young MSU cornerbacks. Allowing them to stand in the pocket and hit their targets gives them confidence that they can build on.

Prediction: This is another must-win for MSU just as Bowling Green was. Although that game wasn't pretty, the bottom line was that MSU got the win. Same thing applies here for the Bulldogs as they just have to win at all cost. With a bye week that healed up some wounds and allowed MSU to correct some mistakes, you would think that they would come out firing on all cylinders. We will see if that's the case.
MSU, 34-17

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