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Pre-game at Commonwealth Stadium - (UPDATED) 20th ranked Bulldogs make road SEC debut in 2012 at Kentucky



Matt Stevens


LEXINGTON, Ky. - After a 10-hour car ride, let me repeat that - 10-hour car ride to Lexington - the night before, The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is LOOKING LIVE.....at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky. For a Southeastern Conference matchup as the Wildcats host 20th-ranked Mississippi State (11:22 p.m., SEC Network).  




(UPDATED 10:30 a.m.): - Mississippi State sophomore defensive tackle P.J. Jones is expected to play after sitting out the first four games with a undisclosed suspension. MSU sophomore tight end is not expected to play Saturday (ankle) after the coaching staff expected him to return from a pectoral muscle injury in the preseason. Tobias Smith is dressed and on the active roster but may see limited action Saturday.  




Here's what we're going to do for our pre-game blog: The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is going to review all the material we've assembled for you this week in our print edition. 




NOTE: Be sure to bookmark this page as we'll continue to update this post throughout the day until kickoff as news continues to flow out about pre-game news for either team tonight. 






MONDAY - MSU football notebook - We looking into the return of Mississippi State University tight end Malcolm Johnson: http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=19322#ixzz28X2x9Nsb 




MSU football feature - Early in the week we looked at the pair of Kentucky freshmen quarterbacks that Mississippi State will be preparing for in anticipation of today's game: http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=19324 




TUESDAY - MSU football feature - MSU junior defensive end Denico Autry, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College, wants to focus on being a better pass rusher: http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=18585  






WEDNESDAY -MSU football notebook - We look into why MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell plays so well on the road: http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=18587  




1. How will Kentucky handle playing two true freshmen quarterback Saturday? 


The decision in Lexington, Ky., for Wildcats head coach Joker Phillips became a necessity when sophomore starting quarterback Maxwell Smith was declared out Saturday with a torn 


ligament in his ankle that will require surgery. 


"We'll have to play them both quarterbacks (Patrick Towles and projected starter Jalen Whitlow)," Phillips said Monday. "It's going to take an effort of both of them. It could be right in the middle of 


the series. If it's not series to series, it could be play after play after play, switching them in and out, give them things that they both can do (and) give them a chance to go out and play and compete." 


Mullen and the MSU defensive coaching staff may have to gameplan against a quarterback that doesn't have one second of action in his college career when they see Towles, the 2011 Mr. Football selection 


out of high school in Kentucky, Saturday (11:21 a.m., SEC Network) 


"We've watched some high school film on him," Mullen said. "He's a complete quarterback, throws the ball really well being their state player of the year." 


The style will likely be two different philosophies depending on which Wildcats player is behind 


center Saturday when UK (1-3, 0-2 in SEC) hosts No. 20 MSU (4-0, 1-0) at Commonwealth Stadium (11:21 a.m., SEC Network) due to the experience advantage in practice preparing to play for Whitlow. 


"We do a great job in the box of charting keys up in the box and this week will be huge for that to be precise," MSU linebackers coach Geoff Collins said Monday. "What we will focus on this week in practice is letting your fundamentals and natural instincts take you to the football no matter what they are running. Then we'll try and narrow down how to predict what they're doing." 


The last time Kentucky started a true freshman at quarterback resulted in a 30-13 home victory in 2011 over a team from the Magnolia State (University of Mississippi) as Smith finished throwing for 283 yards, most ever by a Wildcats player in his first-ever game. 


"Whew, intimidation is coming to them that's for sure now," MSU senior linebacker Cam Lawrence said. "It'll come from every angle and they can bet on that." 


Lawrence, who leads MSU in tackles with 28, said Tuesday that the game plan mentally for how to handle UK's plan to play Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles will be similar to how they handled University of Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier in his first-ever Southeastern Conference start. 


"That's our game plan with every quarterback but of course them being freshmen, even more so," Lawrence said. "It's difficulty not having film on (Towles) but honestly, young quarterbacks take on similar trends." 




2. Will Tyler Russell be able to bounce back after a week off to think about his struggles vs. South Alabama? 


Through the first quarter of play, MSU (4-0, 1-0 in SEC) had jut one first down and four punts against the University of South Alabama. Through the first 30 minutes of the Bulldogs' 30-10 victory over the 


University of South Alabama, Dan Mullen didn't have the look of a content fourth-year football coach. 


"It was just sloppy," Mullen said. "When you get these games, you want to come out and play sharp and play crisp, and we didn't do that in the first-half at all. We went backwards a lot." 


Quarterback Tyler Russell looked confused and frustrated as passes continued to fall incomplete. 


Russell, who will be making his ninth straight for MSU, has been looking forward through the bye week to the opportunity to face another opponent and gets that chance against a Kentucky defense he 


shredded last year for 172 yards a touchdown in limited action. 


"I wanted to be back out there real soon without a bye week," Russell said Thursday. "(I was) just off on some throws (against South Alabama). Throws that I normally make and I didn't make that night." 




3. Will Kentucky be able to stop the MSU run offense this week? 


One of the struggles of Kentucky defense through three different coordinators and seven years has been stopping teams from running the ball. It is no different this season as the Wildcats allow 193.8 yards per game on the ground and have surrendered over 200 yards to the three undefeated ranked teams they've faced this season (University of Louisville, University of Florida and University of South Carolina). 


MSU comes in with four running backs averaging over four yards per carry and is led by junior LaDarius Perkins with 389 yards and five touchdowns. Every time the 5-foot-10, 190-pound athlete from Greenville touches the ball he gets an average of 6.82 yards. 


"Last year we caught them off guard," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "We came in and they were expecting us to run and we threw the ball. We'll find out what happens this week." 




4. What will Kentucky's offense look like exactly with some many injured parts? 


If the loss of starting quarterback Maxwell Smith wasn't enough for Kentucky's coaching staff, it was announced Thursday senior running back CoShik Williams will not play due to a season-ending injury. 


The Wildcats starting tailback in two games suffered a torn labrum in his hip joint Saturday in a home loss against No. 6 University of South Carolina. 


Williams has rushed for 66 yards on 14 carries but the blow is just by losing another offensive weapon when UK is already preparing to start two freshmen quarterbacks in Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles. 


Without an experienced quarterback and the loss of a five-year senior tailback, the question becomes how much basic and vanilla will the defense be. 


"Next man up," Phillips said. "That's the attitude you have to take." Kentucky has three tailbacks (Raymond Sanders, Jonathan George and Dyshawn Mobley) averaging at five yards per carry and over five yards per carry in the first half of games. 


Williams led UK with 64 yards on 15 carries in the 28-16 loss against MSU last season. 


Sanders leads the Wildcats with 275 total yards and a pair of touchdowns. He'll likely get the start Saturday and did not play in the last meeting in Lexington in 2011. 




5. What's the plan to play MSU's players recovering from injuries? 


MSU coach Dan Mullen said Monday he is hopeful tight end Malcom Johnson will make his 2012 debut this weekend right on track with the rehabilitation plan. 


"We've got to see what (Malcolm) can do," Mullen said. "He hasn't done any live stuff yet so he still has some recovery time left with the adaptation time to get back in it. He hasn't played any football since last April. So I think it will be a slower process, it's not like we're saying 'hey get back in there and go'." 


The tight end suffered an undisclosed injury to his pectoral muscle in early July before fall camp. Johnson, a 6-foot-2 and 225-pound tight end was one of 33 players selected to the 2012 John Mackey Award watch list, given to the nation's best tight end, 


that will be presented Dec. 6. 


Then there's senior offensive guard Tobias Smith and his surgically repaired knee. 


Mullen said he, the coaching staff and the Bulldogs training staff will have a ruling during warmups before the game if the Columbus native will miss his third straight game of the season. 


"If he feels really confident and 100 percent, then you probably go with him," Mullen said. "Either way, he has to get practice. Sometimes after practice he's really sore and you think, 'OK, well, he might not be ready for the game' but we've got to get him into practice to see how it is and see if he feels great about going." 


Smith was not available to the media the week before the Kentucky game. The rehabilitation process has had the senior from Columbus not see any action in the last two games against Troy University and the University of South Alabama. Mullen confirmed this week was the first they thought they'd see Smith return to the lineup when the surgery first took place last year. 


Justin Malone, who has been substituted for Smith during periods of the first two contests of the 2012 season, got the start at right guard in the last two games with the rest of the starting MSU line staying intact. 




Players to Watch 








Senior linebacker Cameron Lawrence 


The Bulldogs most experience linebacker has thrown down the gauntlet to whoever is behind center for the University of Kentucky quarterbacks. 


Whew, intimidation is coming to them that's for sure now," Lawrence said. "It'll come from every angle and they can bet on that." 


Lawrence, who leads MSU in tackles with 28, said Tuesday that the game plan mentally for how to handle UK's plan to play Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles will be similar to how they handled University of Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier in his first-ever Southeastern Conference start. 


"That's our game plan with every quarterback but of course them being freshmen, even more so," Lawrence said. "It's difficulty not having film on (Towles) but honestly, young quarterbacks take on similar trends." 


Lawrence said fans who watch Saturday's matchup (11:21 a.m., SEC Network) in Lexington may see MSU crowd the line of scrimmage more with the front seven trying to go forward more at the snap of the football instead of just trying to concentrate on keeping the football in front of them. 




Junior running back LaDarius Perkins 


In order to establish a consistent running game, Perkins has gotten 46 of his 57 carries on first or second down where he's averaging 7.41 yards per touch. The junior will be an explosive option against a Kentucky team that is the 13th in the Southeastern Conference against 


the run this season. 


"Even though I know we're going to throw the ball all over the field, I know we're going to run the ball, too," Perkins said. "The coaches know we can run the ball on these guys." 








Junior linebacker Avery Williamson 


The starter at middle linebacker is tied for second in the SEC in tackles with 51 and three different games with 10 or more. In his first career start in the 2012 season opener against Louisville, Williamson had 12 tackles and a caused fumble. He hasn't stopped being a disrupted force since the opener and will need to be a fundamental difference in causing early turnovers Saturday for Kentucky to have any shot to stay close. 




Junior tailback Raymond Sanders III 


With all the injuries to quarterbacks and running backs at Kentucky over the last couple of weeks, Sanders is the only productive member of the offensive backfield. Sanders leads the team with 260 yards on the ground and 6.5 yards per touch. He led UK in rushing against South Carolina with 59 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. He has the ability to make plays by having a 67-yard run against Kent State earlier this season. 




The last time (and only time).....the home team has won the game in the series since 2007 was the 24-17 victory for Mississippi State in 2010 in Starkville. The last time Kentucky defeated MSU in Commonwealth Stadium was a 42-17 decision in 2003. 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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