Thursday Morning Bulldog Football Notebook

K.J. Wright has been involved with three of these Dog-Kat fights, so who better to ask: how is it that the visiting team always manages to come out with the win? "I don't know what that is," the senior linebacker said, adding "It's just something we have to make sure doesn't happen this year."

This is indeed the Bulldog goal in 2010 as Mississippi State takes its turn hosting the inter-Division matchup with Kentucky. The annual matchup, that is, since these are designated ‘permanent' opponents per the Southeastern Conference. And by guess or by gosh the league made a good call in pairing these West and East squads, because since 1992 Mississippi State has won ten times, Kentucky seven.

And, in the last four years the visiting team has left town happy. As a 2007 freshman Wright had the pleasure of playing in State's 31-14 victory in Lexington that was much closer than the score looks, as well as pivotal to earning bowl eligibility. A year later at Scott Field he could only watch a makeable field goal kick clank off the left upright and preserve Kentucky's 14-13 road win. Few knew it at the time but that loss also set machinery in motion for a coaching change in December.

Last year it was again MSU's turn to celebrate after a 31-24 success that hinged on a 21-point third quarter by the Bulldogs. Neither team scored in the fourth period as defenses took control, and Wright was the Dog setting that pace. He notched ten total tackles including one for loss.

"That was one of my most favorite games," Wright said after Wednesday's practice. "Because it was down to the wire and I had a real good game, I was just making plays all over the field that game. I remember that game real well."

Now it's time for the rematch, at Scott Field this even-year time, and Wright has every reason to expect another down-to-the-wire contest. He certainly recognizes many of the names and numbers after years of chasing them around both fields. The Dog defense did a decent job limiting the damage by splendid all-purpose threat Randall Cobb, with 17 rushing yards, 32 receiving yards, and an incompleted pass. Though, Cobb did register the only Wildcat touchdown of the critical third quarter for a 24-20 lead that didn't hold up.

Just as worrisome for Wright is Derrick Locke, who ran for 103 yards and a touchdown last year on State. Locke has missed a pair of games with a bum shoulder and is not assured of making the trip this week. State isn't taking any chances and is preparing for him, though.

Because, this pair of fast Kats stretch defenses to the literal breaking point and Wright says his unit is going to have to cover a whole lot of space. Fast.

"We've got to come out and take better angles and do a bunch of gang tackling. Teams like that, if you miss tackles they get first downs. So we have to run to the ball and gang tackle together. Locke has a whole lot of speed, so we know we have to lock-in (no pun seemed intended) on him. Because if he gets to the outside he can really take it to the house. So we really have to watch out for him." And again, even if Locke is not in the backfield...he did not play in the 2008 game here either and all know how that turned out for State.

As an old Dog, Wright is also watching his own team this week. This is the ninth-straight game for both teams, and inevitably the grind of practice, play, and for that matter classes is going to show by late October. At least Mississippi State has an open date next week to look forward to, while Kentucky won't get a break until November 20. Yet even this has a temptation for some younger Bulldogs who might be peeking beyond this weekend for some down-time.

This is when a senior has to exert, well, seniority, and tell the pups they can make it. "Oh, we've got to find a whole lot of gas. Because everybody in the country is tired, you get worn-out. So we have to work hard, finish it strong, and then we get a bye week after we win.

"It's the most important game of the year. We can't worry about Kentucky, we have to worry about ourselves. And make sure at the end of the game we have one more point than them."

Speaking of score-keeping… The last two seasons Wright has come in second on the defense in total tackles. As a sophomore starter he was beaten by Dominic Douglas 116 to 72; last year it was Jamar Chaney finishing first in a closer race, 90 to 82. Naturally Wright figured '10 was his time, yet here is Chris White moving in front 71 to 59 after eight games. Wright can only shake his head and chuckle.

"Yeah, Chris has taken it away from me. I ain't going to give up though, I'm going to keep coming after him!"


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