October 25, 2011 8:18:00 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- The statistics tell Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen his team will struggle at 6 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports South) against the University of Kentucky unless it can generate turnovers.
The Wildcats are 104th in the country (11th in the Southeastern Conference) in turnover margin. The 19 giveaways have been critical in losses to Louisville, Florida, LSU, and South Carolina.
"They're a good football team," Mullen said. "They've been hurt with turnovers at times this year. You don't turn the ball over, they're a very different football team. That can be corrected very easily, and it looks like they got that fixed during their bye week."
Kentucky (3-4, 0-4 SEC) is 6-0 under coach Joker Phillips when his team wins the turnover battle. The Wildcats are 3-11 when they don't.
"It's just really key we get some short fields, and last week (in a 38-14 victory against Jacksonville State) was the first time we got some short fields and our offense capitalized on them," Phillips said. "We can't give short fields, also. Our turnovers, last week, we turned the ball on the 2-yard line and we turned the ball on the 25-yard line. OK, that's long fields for the opponent."
The key for MSU to win the turnover battle is pressuring quarterback Morgan Newton. The Carmel, Ind., native has eight touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. He also has had career-high rushing numbers in three times this season (vs. Central Michigan, Florida, and Jacksonville State).
"(Newton) is a guy with some experience. Even though he's a younger player, he's played a bunch of football," Mullen said. "Kentucky plays us tough every year. It usually comes down to the last play of the game. I imagine it's going to be another brawl this year."
Kentucky's victory against Jacksonville State was only the second time he has completed more than half his passes in a game, and his third game without an interception.
"The thing Morgan has to get better is throwing intermediate passes," Phillips said. "If you look at those last couple of years, we have run more shallow crosses, trying to hit people on the run, which you have to do when your receivers are struggling to get off vertically."
Bulldogs coach touting success away from Starkville
Nine of Mullen's 17 victories as MSU coach have come away from Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
MSU has road wins in Southeastern Conference play against Florida, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. Since 2000, it has the second worst road record (18-44), but before the start of this season was one of five league teams at .500 or better way from home.
Mullen attributed the success away from home to the bunker mentality that a road trip presents for his players as they mentally prepare for the game.
"I enjoy playing on the road because there's less distractions," Mullen said. "Guys aren't dealing with too many family members coming into town and you get rid of extra hangers-on at the hotel. That's good. If there's anything beyond that. It's a positive for the building for the program."
MSU Homecoming game vs. UT-Martin slated for 6:30 p.m.
MSU officials announced Monday the Homecoming game against Football Subdivision opponent University of Tennessee at Martin will be at 6:30 p.m. (CSS) Nov. 5.
MSU has played two games on CSS in program history: a win at home vs. Tulane in 2007 and a loss at Georgia Tech in 2009.
Tennessee-Martin is 4-3 and 3-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference. It will be the Skyhawks' first trip to Starkville.