Lexington has not only become familiar to Bulldogs but a productive place to visit with MSU victories in the last three trips. Lawrence, who is 2-0 there himself and 3-0 against Wildcat clubs, is not taking this last shot for granted though. Not after some open-date TV time and informal scouting of the South Carolina-at-Kentucky contest.
"I got to see a little bit of that game, I sat on the couch and watched all weekend. Kentucky came out strong and showed they can play with some of the elite teams. They kind of lost the lead at the end, South Carolina did what they had to and kind of took off at the end. But Kentucky showed they can compete, for sure."
So consider Mississippi State alerted, overall. Their problem though is lack of some specific information about the Wildcat offense. Injuries and other issues have forced Kentucky to shuffle their skill-position lineups and throw some freshman faces on the field already. That includes true rookie quarterback Jalen Whitlow who has assumed starting status.
Now comes word the Wildcats will activate yet another true freshman quarterback, Patrick Towles, here at half-way point of a struggling season. The home-team folk can debate the wisdom of such a potential move.
The Bulldog defense can only speculate how to prepare for unknown quarterbacking quantities.
"It's definitely a difficulty not having film on a quarterback," Lawrence said. Though, "Most young quarterbacks take on some of the same trends." Of their elders he meant, and having played high school quarterback himself Lawrence should know. Based on what prep-video data State has secured, Towles—a PARADE All-American—would play along the lines of injured passing quarterback Maxwell Smith. Whereas Whitlow is a fast-footed athlete fitting another variation of the spread offense.
"I could imagine they would probably rotate through, if one is on they'll probably stay with him," Lawrence speculated. "They'll probably use a dual-quarterback system to attack us and that may be a difficulty with us, we have to plan for everything. You know, expect the worst and plan the best we can." Along that line State has used distinct scout-teams to expose the defense to their best guesses.
"We do have a passing quarterback and a runner. So we're preparing for everything." Just don't ask Lawrence which walk-on plays which role…though media did. "They've got them all in green jerseys so we haven't really specified!"
Now it needs noting, this is not the first time this defense has been confronted with a relatively-unknown quarterbacking situation. Last year, also at Kentucky, it was then-freshman Smith promoted to starter ahead of athlete Morgan Newton. Smith was 26-of-33 throwing too. Lawrence said the 2011 experience is proving valuable this time around.
"You can't underestimate anybody. Every kid, they're SEC-caliber players. They can do some things, you have to still respect them." That includes some more seasoned Wildcats too, such as impressive junior running backs Jonathan George and Raymond Sanders. "I know they're young and athletic," Lawrence said. Just like the starting quarterback, for that matter. But the linebacker also said his unit can't sit back and wait for those Kentucky play-makers to show their stuff.
This week's approach should more mimic what State did against Auburn and a second-start sophomore quarterback. "That's going to be our gameplan. We're going to try to attack him from every angle. That's what we do to every quarterback and with him being a freshman even more so." And, "Any time the ball goes in the air we're going to see it as our ball, and go get it."
ON HIS GUARD: Since the main way offensive guards get consistent attention is to be injured, Gabe Jackson is happy to stay healthily obscure. Yet after two-plus years on the job the name is getting out there. He's up for both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award—only John Banks is on more watch lists. And now here come the scouts to take a look. Left guard Jackson is among the Bulldogs being evaluated by professional clubs. How seriously none will say on-record of course, and the seven or eight NFL scouts attending Mississippi State practices this week were obviously first focused on Banks, Darius Slay, Josh Boyd, Cam Lawrence, and other 2012 upperclassmen. Still a junior like Jackson also shows up on their radars, thanks to a record of reliable performance over his 30-straight starts. Which just happens to also be how many games he's played on the Bulldog line.
So maybe Jackson is drawing some healthy attention after all. "First coming in, I didn't expect it. But if I keep working hard it will pay off, or something!"
Something good for State, for sure. Now in his fourth college fall, Jackson has matured into the unit's lead Dog on and off field. He's not the absolute oldest hound on this front; that would be fifth-year senior and fellow guard Tobias Smith. But with Smith battling injuries and having his games scripted carefully it is Jackson coming to the forefront.
"I have to look at myself as a leader. I share the role with Tobias but he's not out there ever play so I have to take over and make sure everybody is doing what they're supposed to do." Still Jackson hopes to be sharing such responsibility soon again with the right guard, maybe as soon as Saturday but surely by next week's home game with Tennessee.
"I have the same confidence in whoever is playing beside me," Jackson said. "But me and him playing together for a while it's a different feeling, just the experience Tobias has in big games." And while Smith has not tipped his hand to media just yet about the chance of a sixth season, Jackson says nobody needs to poll this locker room on their hopes.
"Oh yeah, definitely! I don't know what is going to happen after the season, but if we had a vote it would be 120 vote yes!"
So does this also mean for all the flattery NFL talk implies Jackson also expects to be in the 2013 lineup opposite Smith and in rotation with young beast Justin Malone?
"It's something you always think about it. But the main thing on my mind is win a championship, all the rest of that will come later." This hasn't stopped Jackson from ‘scouting' with former teammates-turned-pro about life at the next level. "The main thing is it's a business, don't get complacent. Stay at work and go even harder."
Meanwhile Jackson, like Lawrence, is another Bulldog going for the career trifecta in the bluegrass country this weekend. "I'm expecting a win!"
PARTICIPATION LIST: A total of 74 Bulldogs have played in at least one game this season, and of those 28 have drawn listed position starts. That does not include the every-game specialists.
A couple of notable players who have not seen any action to-date, but are expected to get on the field soon, are TE Malcolm Johnson (injury) and DT P.J. Jones (suspension in September). The full list of 2012 participants so far are (* started last game):
*WR Chad Bumphis 4-4, WR Brandon Heavens 4-0, WR Jameon Lewis 4-0, *S Nickoe Whitley 4-4, RB Nick Griffin 4-0, *WR Chris Smith 4-4, *CB Darius Slay 4-4, *LB Cameron Lawrence 4-4, WR Ricco Sanders 3-0, LB Chris Hughes 4-0, *CB Johnthan Banks 4-4, CB Cedric Jiles 3-0, QB Dak Prescott 3-0, WR Joe Morrow 4-0, *QB Tyler Russell 4-4, *WR Arceto Clark 4-4, TE Brandon Hill 3-0, DB Louis Watson 4-0, LB Matt Wells 4-3, *FB Sylvester Hemphill 4-2, CB Jamerson Love 3-0, *SS Corey Broomfield 4-4, ST James Baldwin 1-0, *RB LaDarius Perkins 4-4, RB Derrick Milton 3-0, S Jay Hughes 4-0, ST Sam Williams 3-0, TE Marcus Green 4-2, RB Josh Robinson 4-0, FB Adrian Marcus 4-0, CB Taveze Calhoun 4-0, S Dee Arrington 4-0, P Baker Swedenburg 4-4, K Devon Bell 4-4, KO Brian Egan 3-3, PK Charlie Grandfield 2-0, RB Kasey Akins 1-0, LB Ivan Muniz 1-0, LB Christian Holmes 4-0, LB Zach Jackson 4-0, S Kendrick Market 3-0, DE Ryan Brown 4-0, *LB Benardrick McKinney 4-1, *LB Deonte Skinner 4-4, LB Ferlando Bohanna 4-1, DL Quay Evans 4-0, ST Dylan Holley 4-0, DE Corvell Harrison-Gay 1-0, OT Archie Muniz 4-0, DT Devin Jones 4-0, *OG Gabe Jackson 4-4, *OC Dillon Day 4-4, OG/ST Ben Beckwith 4-0, OL Daniel Knox 1-0, OG Tobias Smith 2-2, ST Templeton Hardy 3-0, *OG Justin Malone 4-2, SN Winston Chapman 4-4, *DT Dewayne Cherrington 4-1, *OT Blaine Clausell 4-4, ST Joey Trapp 1-0, *OT Charles Siddoway 4-4, ST/OT Damien Robinson 4-0, WR Robert Johnson 4-0, TE Rufus Warren 4-0, HO Chris Cameron 4-4, ST D.J. Blanks 1-0, DT Nick James 4-0, *DE Denico Autry 4-3, DE Preston Smith 4-0, *DT/E Kaleb Eulls 4-4, DE Shane McCardell 4-2, *DT Josh Boyd 4-4, DT Curtis Virges 3-1, DE John Harris 1-0.