September 20, 2018 10:57:42 AM
STARKVILLE -- The primary benefit of Mississippi State winning its first three games by a combined 124 points is the experience gained in the latter stages of those blowouts.
Now MSU will need that experience at a critical position in a game that could be much closer.
MSU coach Joe Moorhead announced earlier this week starting cornerback Jamal Peters will miss the Kentucky (3-0) game with a lower-body injury; Peters was seen on crutches with a wrap over his knee after his injury. In his absence, No. 14 MSU has plenty of options for the Wildcats 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2).
With sophomore Cameron Dantzler starting on the other side, MSU can turn to junior Maurice Smitherman, freshman Tyler Williams, sophomore Korey Charles and senior Chris Rayford at the other spot, with at least one of them being used as Dantzler's backup. Moorhead said cornerbacks coach Terrell Buckley does a good job of training all corners to play both field and boundary corner, thus a depth chart shakeup, as opposed to simply plugging in a new player, remains possible.
MSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said he knows who will start, but how each player will be used remains to be determined.
"I can't say they're all going to play but we're likely to have a rotation there," Shoop said. "Smitherman's done a really good job when he's in there, obviously Cam's done a good job in the first three games and Chris is a veteran presence."
Shoop wouldn't hesitate putting any of them in against the Wildcats, as they've all earned his trust at one point or another.
Shoop said late in preseason camp Smitherman was making himself MSU's No. 3 corner with Williams in hot pursuit. Smitherman was determined to reach that status to make his status as a cornerback stick. He felt like he had to prove his belief that it is his natural position.
"Preparing like a starter always, you never know what's going to happen. You never want injuries, but this is football, it happens," Smitherman said.
Rayford joins Smitherman and Williams in his old stomping grounds.
Rayford was moved from corner to safety in preseason in an effort to bolster depth there, but coaches maintained that Rayford was trained to play both; with the cornerback situation being what it is, Shoop said Rayford is exclusively a cornerback this week.
Shoop said with Rayford out at safety, MSU can turn to C.J. Morgan and Stephen Adegoke to fill his backup role.
"I feel good," Rayford said. "I feel like I know so much: not that I didn't know safety, I just walked in there and started talking to everybody, knew the defense and everything."
All of them have done something with their limited playing time to date. Smitherman has six tackles and a pass breakup, Rayford has three tackles and two pass breakups and Williams has two tackles and a pass breakup; the trio combines for five of MSU's 10 passes broken up. There are eight teams in the nation that don't have five as a team -- including South Carolina, which has yet to break up a pass and only has one interception to its name.
All involved know the playing time is up for grabs in earnest, with no favorites entering the week. They also know how to handle it.
"It's all a competition," Smitherman said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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