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October 24, 2013

Cats look for first SEC win at Mississippi State

KENTUCKY (1-5, 0-3 SEC)
Coach: Mark Stoops
Record: 1-5 in first season at UK and overall
Last game:Alabama 48, Kentucky 7
Next game: Alabama State, Nov. 2
Roster | Depth chart
Coach: Dan Mullen
Record: 37-25 in fifth season at MSU and overall
Last game: Mississippi State 21, Bowling Green 20
Next game: at South Carolina, Nov. 2
Roster | Depth chart
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss. (55,082)
TV: ESPN (Rece Davis play-by-play, Jesse Palmer and David Pollack analysis, Samantha Ponder sideline)
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Jeff Piecoro analysis; Dick Gabriel sideline); Sirius 91/XM 91
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: Mississippi State by 10.5

Series Information:
Series record: Kentucky leads 21-19
At Starkville: Mississippi State leads 10-7
Coaches' records: Stoops 0-0 vs. Mississippi State; Mullen 4-0 vs. UK

Last meeting
Mississippi State 27, Kentucky 14 (Oct. 6, 2012, in Lexington)
The Bulldogs outscored the Wildcats 14-0 in the first quarter and led 27-7 in the third quarter, controlling the game throughout. Mississippi State's LaDarius Perkins rushed 25 times for 110 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Tyler Russell threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs limited UK to 84 rushing yards and 228 yards of total offense while putting up 427 yards of total offense and controlling the ball for almost 36 minutes.

Keys to the Game
1. QB questions: Kentucky once again will have some quarterback uncertainty on Thursday, but it won't be alone. Expect Mississippi State to play both Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell at QB. Prescott, an option ace who once was Russell's backup, moved into the starting role thanks to an injury and still is listed there, though Russell will play. Prescott has rushed for 100 or more yards three times this season. Kentucky will go with Maxwell Smith to start, but Jalen Whitlow, coming off an ankle injury against Alabama, could see some snaps.

2. Close calls: Kentucky doesn't have many series as closely contested as the one against Mississippi State. UK leads the all-time series 21-19, and the last five games between the two have been decided by an average of eight points per game. Three of those came by a touchdown or less. But Dan Mullen is undefeated against Kentucky, and the Bulldogs are looking for a milestone win of sorts. If Mississippi State wins on Thursday, it will become the first team to ever win five straight games in the series.

3. Ground game: Mississippi State isn't one of the SEC's most explosive offenses (the Bulldogs rank ninth in the league in scoring offense, seventh in total offense and ninth in passing offense), but Mullen's team does some work on the ground. State is the league's No. 4 rushing offense, averaging 214.3 rushing yards per game. The Bulldogs have rushed for 17 touchdowns through six games. They ran for 18 all last season. Mississippi State hasn't had 20 rushing touchdowns in a season since it totaled 28 in 2010.

Staff Predictions
T.J. Walker, Staff Writer: Mississippi State 28, Kentucky 13 Another tough SEC road test, another gritty effort from the Cats. Expect UK to play the Bulldogs tough, but if you haven't figured it out at this point, the talent just isn't there. If Jalen Whitlow was 100 percent and getting the majority of snaps, it would be closer.

Aaron Smith, staff writer: Mississippi State 30, Kentucky 24 This looks like the most winnable conference game on the schedule. And I'd probably pick the Wildcats to win -- if the quarterback situation wasn't so muddled. We don't know how much, if at all, Whitlow will play, or how effective he can be. That takes away a primary component of UK's chance at an upset, which means I'm picking the other team that's still looking for an SEC win.

Justin Rowland, Football Recruiting Analyst: Mississippi State 27, Kentucky 21 Kentucky should be much more competitive and an upset isn't out of the question. But MSU has been very competitive against some very good teams and still has better personnel.

Brett Dawson, Publisher: Mississippi State 24, Kentucky 17 Maybe Whitlow would help spring the upset. Maybe going on the road and winning against a credible (if beatable) SEC opponent still is a bit too much to ask. But this one feels winnable for Kentucky, and there's no reason to think the Cats can't keep it close into the fourth quarter. Get a few breaks, and maybe UK gets its first conference win. The guess here, though, is that State's ground game is a bit too much.

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