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Post-game at Davis Wade Stadium - MSU 28, Kentucky 22 - Dan Mullen still perfect vs. Wildcats




Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE - What we learned?  


- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen can still boast a perfect record against Kentucky. The MSU coach is now a perfect 9-0 as a Division 1 coach against the Wildcats dating back to the four straight victories he earned as an assistant on Urban Meyer's staff at Florida from 2005-08.  


With the victory, its fifth straight in the series for the first time by either school, MSU (4-3, 1-2 in Southeastern Conference) boasts a winning record this season. The 28-22 victory Thursday is only the program's second win against a Bowl Championship Series opponent in the last 375 days.  




Kentucky (1-6, 0-4 in SEC) has run its conference losing streak to 12 games and have been outscored by an average of 24.42 points in those losses. 




MSU is 28-2 in Mullen's career in Starkville when the Bulldogs have a lead going into the fourth quarter. All these numbers represent MSU's ability to protect a lead going into the final quarter like they did two weeks ago against Bowling Green. Kentucky is one of three SEC Eastern Division teams still never to beat Mullen since he took over the MSU program in 2009. 




- It wasn't without drama as Kentucky drive into MSU territory during the final minute of play with a chance to steal the game the Bulldogs desperately needed to have to think about bowl eligibility in 2013.  


"Whew, we keep everybody tuned in right till the last minute don't we?," Mullen said. "We seem to find a way to do that. We did a lot of sloppy things tonight and second game in a row we made a defensive stand to win the game." 




- MSU dominated offensively in the opening two possessions to the tune of of 11.33 yards per play in the first half against a youthful and overmatched Kentucky defensive front.  


MSU sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott, who received his fifth start of the 2013 season, wiggled away from late pressure on a third down play to freelance the first score of the night. Prescott broke away from two tackles in the backfield to find junior wide receiver Malcolm Johnson for a 60-yard touchdown strike. After Prescott was appeared to be bottled up initially, the Kentucky defensive backs simply stopped running allowing for Johnson's first touchdown of the season.  


"My comfort comes from my teammates making me feel comfortable from our receivers getting open t 


In its five home games this season, MSU has outscored its opponents 147-58 in the first half.  




- For the rest of the night, MSU's offense became the Jameon Lewis showcase as the junior wide receiver had three total touchdowns Thursday night. After Kentucky answered to tie the game, Lewis took a option pitch on the sixth play of the drive and practically walked in the end zone from 19 yards out.  


Lewis was then found for a 17-yard crossing route for his fourth touchdown reception of the season. Of the nine receiving scores by MSU, Lewis has four of them in the 2013 season.  




After Kentucky tried to make MSU fans sweat by scoring a 17-yard rushing touchdown, the Wildcats made it a two-point deficit after Devon Bell fumbled a punt in the end zone. The sophomore kicker, who was being used primarily as a punter because of his strong leg, drops the long snap and when the ball rolled beyond the end line, Kentucky was suddenly only down 21-19. 


- Mullen and MSU offensive coordinator when to a familiar bag of tricks in the responding drive as the throwback pass from Lewis to Prescott went for a 17-yard score. It's the exact same play that MSU successfully used for a touchdown in the 62-7 blowout win over Troy.  


"When you give Jameon Lewis the ball he's just trouble in so many ways in containing him so he has to be a guy we have to get the ball to," Prescott said. 


Thursday night represented the second time this season Lewis left Davis Wade Stadium with a touchdown rushing, throwing and receiving. 




- In front of a very sparse crowd despite MSU officials announcing a attendance of 55,102 on a night MSU announced its 28th consecutive sellout, MSU got its first victory against a SEC opponent in a Thursday night matchup since the 2001 Egg Bowl rivalry game against Ole Miss.  


MSU, which came in averaging 214.3 rushing yards per game, was forced to turn to the passing attack early and often for 278 yards against the stacked Kentucky defensive front. Prescott hit 11 different receivers in a career high 23 completions that totaled 301 yards.  


"What I saw from Dak tonight is something I see everyday in practice because everything he does is all out effort," Lewis said. "When we say 'that's Dak being Dak' it's all about us seeing him improve." 




- Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot made the obvious determination to contain Prescott's running threat and the ability of senior LaDarius Perkins but left his secondary in constant 1-on-1 situations. This type of coverage decision led to MSU being 10 for 18 on third down.  


"We have to find ways to convert on third downs no matter who is in the football game," Prescott said. "We're doing a better job of that each and every week and we'll continue to work on it in practice." 


Perkins left the field in the first half with what appeared to be a another injury to his hampered ankle but returned to total 89 yards.  




- Kentucky's explosive 'Air Raid' offense lost some immediate luster when senior tailback Raymond Sanders left the game with what was reported to be severe cramping. Without a consistent play action option in the run game, Kentucky starting quarterback Max Smith struggled to find open receivers. In the first quarter he completed 7 of 13 thanks to a barrage of screens and short passes. However, the Wildcats primary backup quarterback, who was filling in for athletic signal caller Jalen Whitlow, completed just one pass over 12 yards the entire evening. 


"I've never seen us give up and we won't ever give up," Smith said. "We are fully capable of winning football games and I'm confident that it will happen soon." 


MSU will now enjoy a 10-day preparation period before they travel to South Carolina to face the 20th-ranked Gamecocks on Nov. 2 at 11:21 a.m. The Bulldogs haven't won in Columbia, S.C., since a 38-0 victory in 1998.  




- Mississippi State sophomore defensive tackle Quay Evans was suspended for Thursday night's game for what the program called a violation of team rules. 


MSU head coach Dan Mullen confirmed after the 28-22 victory over Kentucky Saturday night the former five-star recruit would be reevaluated in the following weeks but did not state definitely if he would be in the lineup in 10 days when MSU travels to No. 20 South Carolina.  




- MSU senior defensive back Nickoe Whitley was ejected in the second quarter after being assessed two personal foul penalties in a four-play sequence.  


Whitley was flagged for the personal foul for hitting after the whistle and then three plays later was flagged for throwing punches in a pile of bodies near the tackle.  


"It's not anything I condone and it's something that is extremely disappointing that hurt the team as well," said Mullen, who claimed he didn't see either penalties. "That was very disappointing on many levels from a fifth-year player." 


Southeastern Conference director of officiating Steve Shaw was in attendance Thursday night at Davis Wade Stadium with league commissioner Mike Slive. It is unknown if Whitley will be futher punished by league officials and will not be announced until the end of play this weekend.  




- MSU coach Dan Mullen claims to be personally responsible for the special teams unit at Mississippi State and was fully aware of the grade he gave that element Thursday night.  


"I think our kicking game was a little bit off tonight," Mullen said. "We didn't punt the ball well, our return game wasn't good and our coverage game wasn't great." 


MSU sophomore kicker Devon Bell struggled again by missing a 47-yard field goal at the end of the first half and then costing the Bulldogs (4-3, 1-2 in SEC) two points. While backed up deep near the end zone, Bell dropped the long snap in the third quarter and saw the ball roll across the end line resulting in a safety. The special teams blunder made the MSU advantage 21-12 but Kentucky managed to score on the ensuing drive to make it a two-point deficit.  


"I think Devon was 27 of 28 on field goals during the bye week (practices) and we chart everything," Mullen said. "He did drop that snap and had a lot of little learning pains from him tonight."  


Bell was in on three punts Thursday night for a 41.7 yard average after he outplayed senior punter Baker Swedenburg in practice all week.  




What we heard?  




Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen: 




"That was a hard fought game. I want to give Kentucky a lot of credit. Mark Stoops has done a great job with that squad. You can see that in their kids with their demeanor, their attitude and how they play. For us I think we did a lot of good things tonight, and we did a lot of sloppy things tonight. At different times there were really a lot of highs we could take out of that game. That was the second game in a row where our defense made a great stand at the end. I am still disappointed with our two-minute defense before halftime. That was one of the most penalized games we have had this year. We had a lot of penalties that put us behind the chains. We made some really big plays on offense, but had a lot of negative yardage plays on offense. You can't do that. Our kicking game was a little bit off tonight, too. We didn't punt the ball very well, our return game wasn't good, our coverage game and some of that has to do with the kicks. It wasn't great tonight. We got a win and are 4-3 and it's a good position to be in right now. We are in the second half of the season and to have a winning record. We still have five games to go and we need to finish this season in the right way."  


On finishing games...  


"We have to finish. It's a combination of everything, but we have to put the ball in the end zone. We are getting yards in the fourth quarter, but we are not getting the points. Our yards are sometimes not matching up with our points. A lot of that comes from penalties, mistakes. On the last drive we had two wrong checks and ended up with a second-and-11 play. Those are some tough situations. You drive the ball and make plays and then make errors that put you behind the chains. You don't end up getting the points out of them.  


"Our team did finish tonight. We started with our backs against the wall and put together a long drive and ate some clock; then our defense came out and won the game."  


On Jameon Lewis' versatility...  


"He was a high school quarterback and led his team to a championship, so he has that versatility. He has become comfortable in the game and has become a football player. Since he's been here he has been a guy who was a utility guy, but now he is a football player. He is an every-down player for us. Now that he is an every-down player, you get to use his versatility more."  




Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops:  


"Just a little frustrated again and disappointed. We had our opportunities. We didn't make enough plays when we needed to. They did and give them credit. We started too slow again. We tried to combat that all week and talked about that. We needed to come out strong and execute in the first half on both sides of the ball. We didn't do that and they did. We got too far behind. We settled in in during the second half and made some adjustments to give us an opportunity to win the game but we did not. Give them credit. We will go back to work and get some things corrected to do what we need to do to get things back on the right track."  


On the onside kick try ...  


"We got it to two and I thought we had good momentum. We had the lob set up and it was perfectly executed. Somebody on the backside that had absolutely nothing to do with the play was evidently four or six inches offsides so that's the difference. We didn't do what we needed to do and that's disappointing.  


On QB Maxwell Smith ...  


"It's a combination of things. We need to play better. Everybody needs to play better. We need to protect better. We need to get open and he needs to throw it better so it's a little bit of everything. I thought early on there were a few times we were beat. We had one protection issue late in the game that they got the sack on, but early there was some pressure that impacted him. He can't let that affect him for the rest of the game. He has to step up and when he does have time he has to make big plays.  


On QB Jalen Whitlow coming into game ...  


"I talked to him at half and told him that we needed him to go. We needed him to step up and play with his ankle hurting. He said he was ready and wanted to do it. He went in and gave us a little bit. It was a fine line. He was banged up for a week and a half. He didn't get a lot of reps with his ankle bothering him and that hurt us."  


On what to take from this game ...  


"We need to execute better. That's the bottom line. We had our opportunities. Our team is going to work. Our team needs to improve. We all need to do a  


better job starting with me. That's the way it is and we'll do that. We're not going to hesitate. We'll go back to work. We have to execute when the game is on the line and we're going to do that."  


On the defensive effort ...  


"It got better again as the game went on. They keep you off balance and give them credit. They kept us off balance. We didn't do a good enough job in the first half. That's just too many yards. They converted too many yards and too many big plays. I thought in the second half we did a better job. We we're more aggressive and made some plays when we needed to."  




On MSU trick play for touchdown ...  




"It was a well-designed play. It's one of those that from the sidelines you can see it coming almost in slow motion. It was similar to the play we had setup against Florida and didn't execute. They did and got it in. It's one of the plays that made a difference. Again, give them credit. You either execute it or you don't."  




On message to team after the game ...  




"We are going to look them dead in the face. It is what it is and it's not ok. We are going to coach better, they're going to play better and we're going to address these issues. We are going to get better and keep on fighting. End of story."  




What's next?  


Nov. 2 - At South Carolina, 11:21 a.m., SEC Network 


MSU will now enjoy a 10-day preparation period before they travel to South Carolina to face the 20th-ranked Gamecocks on Nov. 2 at 11:21 a.m. The Bulldogs haven't won in Columbia, S.C., since a 38-0 victory in 1998.  


Quarterback Dylan Thompson is expected to start this week at Missouri but Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said he thinks Connor Shaw, who suffered a knee sprain in the loss at Tennessee, will suit up, opening the possibility of a quick hook if Thompson struggles. 


Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who many expect with the No. 1 overall pick if he declares for the 2014 NFL Draft, has two sacks, 5 1/2 tackles for a loss and six quarterback hurries. Sophomore tailback Mike Davis has topped 100 yards rushing in six of the Gamecocks' seven games. He has totaled 879 yards and 10 touchdowns on 132 carries this season and might be the focal point for the offense in an effort to ease Thompson into the starting role. 




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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