Kentucky linebacker Sam Maxwell knows what life is like playing in the Southeastern Conference, especially in the Eastern Division.
"Trying to get to the top is a battle," he said. "Every game from here on out has got to be a win. Every game is tough."
Indeed it is.
Five of the six teams in the East - Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee - each have two losses. All five teams, including Vanderbilt, which has lost three times against league foes, have a shot at playing in the SEC championship game.
The Wildcats (6-2) are tied with Tennessee for second, but hope to get some more spacing between the five teams against Mississippi State on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. Following a bye week after Saturday's contest, Kentucky will take on Vandy, Georgia and Tennessee, respectively.
Maxwell said the team can't think about the future with the Bulldogs looming.
"We can't think about running the table right now, at least the way everything has been going on," he said. "This season, it seems like anybody can get beat at any time. But we've got to beat Mississippi State first and then start thinking about the other three."
Maxwell said earlier this week that Kentucky has gotten over its 45-37 setback to Florida and is anxious to put another victory in the win column.
"When Sunday comes around, it's over and done with and we have to get ready for another one," he said. "We're hungry for a win. We've been tasting it the first of this season and the end of last season. We tasted enough, but we've got to get that acquired taste. We need to get that win."
During the past two weeks, Kentucky has beaten a previously top-ranked team, followed up by a close call against the defending national champion. Maxwell said he doesn't think fatigue is beginning to take hold in the Wildcats' camp.
"The mental thing kicks in there," he said. "You have a little pain, but that means you've been playing hard and you've been playing good. We can't go out there and think about the bumps and the bruises."
A year ago, Kentucky began its late season run with a 34-31 triumph in Starkville that led to a successful finish down the stretch, capped by a win in the Music City Bowl.
"It was a changing game for us because we were starting to make a stand," he said. "The coaches got on the defense and said we needed to be more physical. We decided to try this physical thing worked out for us and it turned out to be good for us. We've been sticking to it this whole season."
Maxwell didn't play much of a role in last year's contest between the two conference rivals, but is aware of what the Bulldogs can do on the field.
"We know they're a powerful team and they love to run the ball a lot and a physical team is always going to be hard to face," he said.
Maxwell will have a bigger role in this year's contest, but will miss teammate and linebacker sidekick Micah Johnson, who had knee surgery Monday. Johnson is expected to be out the next two weeks.
Maxwell is expected to see extensive playing time this week.
"It's a big loss on the depth chart and as a good friend," he said. "We talk to each other and encourage each other. I know he'll be on the sideline cheering me on and watching what I do."
TAYLOR: Going one-on-one with Sam Maxwell
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