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Defense helps No. 20 MSU hold off Kentucky

 

Matthew Stevens

 

LEXINGTON, Ky. --┬áThe University of Kentucky football team had opportunities Saturday to add some drama to its matchup against No. 20 Mississippi State University. 

 

MSU used an experienced and physical defensive performance to crush those dreams nearly every time. 

 

As a result, MSU passed its first Southeastern Conference road test with a 27-14 victory before an announced crowd of 49,498 at Commonwealth Stadium. 

 

The victory allowed MSU (5-0, 2-0 SEC) to remain perfect through the first five games for only the fourth time in the history of the program. 

 

"Our defense made the stops they needed to," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "I guess I'm critical, but I think our defense played very, very well throughout the course of the game. There were a couple of brain farts in there, but, overall, we played pretty well." 

 

MSU never allowed Kentucky's much-maligned offense to generate enough momentum to make it a one-score deficit. The Bulldogs forced six three-and-outs and held Kentucky to 228 yards, its second-lowest output of the season, and 84 rushing yards (on 34 carries), its lowest total of the season. 

 

MSU, which entered the game tied for last in the league in sacks with (five), had three sacks Saturday, including a back-breaking sack by senior Josh Boyd. 

 

After closing the gap to 27-14 and recovering an onside kick, Kentucky had energy and momentum and with the football near midfield. Boyd, who didn't have a tackle behind the line of scrimmage all season, used a swim move to power through a double block and take down quarterback Jalen Whitlow. Kentucky lost 5 yards on the three-play "drive." 

 

"We took it to heart that they did that (the on-side kick) to us, so we took it upon ourselves to play the best possession we played all game," Boyd said. 

 

The stand helped seal the deal and pushed MSU to 5-0 for the second time since the end of World War II, and just the fourth time in the program's 113-year history. 

 

Kentucky's 17 yards in the first quarter marked the lowest first-quarter output by a MSU opponent since Vanderbilt had 13 yards in the first quarter in 2008. MSU had a 172-17 edge in yards after one quarter. 

 

"After an open date you always worry if you can take care of business, (and) I think we did. I was pleased," Mullen said. "A team playing with some young quarterbacks that is facing some adversity, they wanted to feed off the home excitement. I thought we had a really solid first half on both sides of the ball." 

 

MSU's pass defense entered the game ranked fourth behind the University of Alabama, the University of Florida, and LSU. It answered the challenge Saturday, holding Whitlow, who was making his first start, to 73 yards passing. 

 

The performance likely will continue the comparisons to the 1999 MSU team that won the Western Division and won its first eight games. The 67 points MSU has allowed this season is the fewest through five games since the 1999 team, which held opponents to 42. 

 

Whitlow played most of Kentucky's 38-17 loss last week to No. 6 University of South Carolina after starter Maxwell Smith severely hurt his ankle. Against MSU, he was 10 of 21 for 96 yards. 

 

"I couldn't really throw the ball into the ocean today, so that's not good," Whitlow said. "I left a lot of plays out on the field today." 

 

Whitlow's start marked the first time since 1979 that Kentucky (1-5, 0-3) has started three quarterbacks in three consecutive games. 

 

"We pressured (Whitlow), manned up, and the key was continuing to give him that pressure because you see a lot of different things out of him," MSU senior defensive back Darius Slay said. 

 

East Mississippi Community College transfer Denico Autry helped generate some of that pressure. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder found the quarterback for the first time since the season-opening victory against Jackson State University on a speed rush past left tackle Darrian Miller. Earlier in the week, Autry talked about focusing more of his energy on harassing the quarterback. 

 

Kentucky received a spark from freshman Patrick Towles, who made his debut late in the first quarter. Towles capped the drive with a 32-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver La'Rod King on a busted coverage. Towles was 5 of 6 for 71 yards, but Autry's sack knocked him out of the game with an ankle injury. Kentucky coaches had planned to redshirt the 2011 Mr. Football in the state of Kentucky before injuries early in the season forced him into action. Towles was seen on the sideline in the second half on crutches with a black boot on his right foot. 

 

"I've been through it before," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "Our saying is, 'Next guy out', (and) somewhere in the season we are not going to have to say that, but the next guy has to step up and make plays." 

 

MSU will turn to a nationally televised matchup against the University of Tennessee at 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2). The Volunteers will come to Davis Wade Stadium with SEC's best passing attack (329.2 yards per game). 

 

"Our stadium is going to be rocking. Our guys are going to be pumped up," Mullen said. "They are an explosive, high-scoring, very talented football team."

 

 

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