*Only three Bulldog teams have opened a year with five wins; 1919, 1944, and 1999.
*The Bulldogs improved one place in the AP rankings over their open date. The #20 ranking matches where the 2011 team opened. This is the 11th game out of 42 by a Dan Mullen team to play ranked.
*All-time, ranked State teams are 5-1 playing Kentucky. And Mullen has yet to lose to an opponent that is unranked and not receiving votes in four seasons.
*State owns a three-win streak in Lexington going back to 2007, as well as a win streak at both sites since 2009. And Bulldog teams have won eight of the last 13 meetings but still trail the all-time series 21-18.
*The last ‘consecutive' Bulldog games at Commonwealth Stadium were not exactly consecutive, in 1985 and '90. But this return-trip by State makes up for Kentucky's repeat trips to Starkville in 2001-02, when the last ten-year SEC schedule rotation began.
*Coach Dan Mullen is already at 25 victories with State just a month into his fourth season.
The Opponent: As their own song says, hard times come. Only such struggles are harder to accept, after that 2006-10 stretch which produced five bowl trips. So patience runs a lot thinner these days in Lexington and that proverbial seat must be sizzling. All the more so with the SEC resurgent at last and the Wildcats' window closing fast. It's a tough situation all around for once-favorite son Joker Phillips, who is making the best of things through injuries and insecurities alike. The cupboard isn't entirely bare with some young talent on both sides of the ball and a fair degree of team speed. Meaning, some-SEC-body is likely to get burned taking Kentucky for granted this season. But a little more now is expected here than simply playing spoiler while waiting for tipoff.
Offense: Youth is certainly being served on the offense, though in a few freshman cases it is out of sheer necessity. Most notably at quarterback of course, where Jalen Whitlow gets his first real start now after taking over very early last week upon injury to Maxwell Smith. For that matter another true rookie, Patrick Towles, might well lose his redshirt this week too. Smith's loss mustn't be understated; under him the offense averaged 428 yards but in the last two (SEC) outings production is down to 219 and 243 yards respectively. Whitlow is a scrambler who can let defenses break down while he looks for openings; Towles is known only by his formidable prep passer reputation and adds obvious scouting uncertainty. There are proven targets to toss at. Senior La'Rod King is already top-ten in career yardage and touchdowns here, and off to a strong start with 29 catches and two scores. Here too a couple of kids, frosh A.J. Leger and DeMarcus Sweat, are making themselves known with big-gain grabs, so there is skill for future development. Juniors Raymond Sanders (6.5 yards, two TDs) and Jonathan George (5.2, 3) bring punch to the ground game. And the line quintet has been consistent week to week. The bulk of the, well, bulk is smack in the middle with 296-pound center and third-year starter Matt Smith flanked by 312 and 343 pounders. They've done reasonably well under the quarterback-shuffle circumstances with eleven sacks, and help the runners net almost six yards per tote. Still Kentucky comes in 13th in SEC rushing which puts pressure on the passers. And gives the defense a head start with nine interceptions against eight touchdowns. The Wildcats also hold the ball under 25 minutes per game despite sound first-down and third-down numbers.
Defense: Some squads for opponents to pick their poison. In this Kentucky case it's more picking which means of attack to take first. The Wildcats are allowing 193 rushing yards, and 197 passing. Now that's balance, albeit not the sort a coordinator talks about. It is kinda curious why the unit allows such ground-gaining with most of the front line back. Well, there is one excuse; 330-pound nose tackle Mister Cobble missed the last two games with an infection. He's expected back this week, not good news for the interior Bulldogs who have to move both him and 315-pound tackle Donte Rumph. They tie up lots of blocking attention, freeing senior end Collins Ukwu to score three sacks and two hurries already. UK can line up in a regular four-front, or drop end Taylor Wyndham into an extra linebacker role. A year ago Kentucky featured the SEC's top two in tackles. They're gone, but the statisticians are the same and here come another pair of Wildcats piling up stops. MLB Avery Williamson has taken the team lead, and is second SEC, at 51 tackles. But it is WLB Alvin Dupree making the big plays, with 3.5 sacks and 6.5 total tackles behind the line. Hybrid LB/safety Miles Simpson was a busy boy last weekend with 12 tackles against South Carolina. The defense gets strong safety Ashely Lowery (21 tackles) back after missing a game for concussion, and FS Mikie Benton led the team last year in breaking up passes. Both corners show new starters though Martavius Neloms is a senior. Experience shows with 35 stops already. But, these guys have to make lots of tackles because the opposition has completed 72.3%--read that again—of passes. Kentucky is also last in third-down defense at 53%.
Specialists: Landon Foster is a freshman success already with a 40.3 yard punting average and his squad's coverage has been excellent. But senior Craig McIntosh has been put in some tough kicking situations; of his 3-of-7 field goaling the misses have all been in the 40s and 50s ranges. Wideout Demarco Robinson nets 7-plus yards on punt returns while Sweat fields most kickoffs.
Bulldog Notebook: Mississippi State has now collected 15 turnovers (nine interceptions and four fumbles) through four games, which is second-best in the latest NCAA stats. But the +13 turnover ratio tops the national list this week.
*The Bulldog offense has lost one fumble and thrown one interception.
*Counting last year's Egg Bowl win and this year's victory over Auburn, the Bulldog defense has not given up an offensive touchdown in the most recent pair of SEC contests.
*The MSU offense ranks 7th in SEC passing but has no receiver among the league's top 15 in catches per-game.
*CB Darius Slay is pacing the defense in forced turnovers with four interceptions. That is second-most nationally, though his 1.0 per-game rate ties for first overall. Slay has five career picks with touchdown returns against Georgia (2011) and Jackson State (2012).
*But that fine two-year tally trails the four-year mark of CB Johnthan Banks. His pick in the last game gives the senior 15; with his next interception Banks ties Walt Harris (1992-95) for the Mississippi State record.
*Banks picked a pair of passes against Auburn, giving him three two-intercept games for his career though the first two came consecutively in 2009. Banks also has three touchdown returns, the most recent at Auburn 2011, which ties with CB Corey Broomfield for the MSU record.
*Broomfield has nine career interceptions but hasn't gotten hands on one since 2010.
*S Nickoe Whitley has eight career interceptions as well. So this starting secondary has between them 37 picks.
*In four seasons, Mullen teams have scored 15 non-offense sourced touchdowns on turnovers or blocks.
*He had a pair of picks himself last season, but LB Cameron Lawrence makes his name with tackles more than turnovers. The senior has 28 stops through four games, his total impacted by a very short opening-night's work against Jackson State when Lawrence could have piled up plenty easy stops.
*Lawrence's next tackle will give him 200 for the career, in 41 games.
*State is tied with Florida for last in SEC sacks with five apiece. But with all the aforementioned turnovers, no coach cares.
*Fortunately, the Bulldog offense has only suffered two sacks in four games, tied also for SEC-best.
*QB Tyler Russell tied the program record with 137 passes thrown without a turnover, over two seasons. Then he had his first interception of the season to leave him even with Wes Carroll's 2007 standard, set in the same season and in that case by a true freshman.
*Russell's rate of 21 touchdowns thrown against 11 interceptions is still entirely acceptable. His eight touchdowns tossed in the first three games this year matched his entire 2011 total.
*Russell already ranks 9th in career TD passes, through just 22 games. He needs two more scores to tie Rockey Felker for 8th place.
*And he already ranks #1 among all State passers, with over 150 attempts, in efficiency rating. Though in straightforward completions only, he is sixth-best after a rough day against South Alabama.
*WR Chad Bumphis is on a senior-year tear. His next touchdown reception makes him the all-time tops at Mississippi State. Bumphis has 17 scoring grabs in 41 games, and is even for now with Eric Moulds and Justin Jenkins.
*At Troy he posted a career game of 180 yards, on just six catches. Half of those went for touchdowns on grabs of 72, 58, and 25 yards.
*Bumphis now has 113 career catches too, at least one in every game played with UAB 2010 the lone exception. He ranks 7th in career receptions, three behind Mardye McDole. He is 9th in receiving yardage at 1,619 and needs 1,632 to catch Bill Buckley for #8.
*All but three of his touchdowns have been in non-conference play.
*Bumphis now has 2,699 all-purpose yards and needs 2,911 to crack the top-ten.
*RB LaDarius Perkins is thriving in his first season at starter. He has 389 rushing yards through four games, after netting 422 in 13 games as the backup last year.
*Perkins is up to 1,377 career rushing yards in 30 games with ten touchdowns. Adding in receiving stats, Perkins now has 15 career touchdowns.
*WR Chris Smith has caught at least one pass in 20 of his last 21 games. But in this senior season he already has 13 grabs, putting ahead of his team-best pace last season with 35 grabs.
*After catching six passes with three touchdowns in the first two weekends, TE Marcus Green has not grabbed a ball in the past two contests.
*P Baker Swedenburg is averaging 42.2 yards so far, compared to 41.9 as a sophomore. This is despite the fact he's also been booting from better field positions which cuts into the average. And six of his 16 kicks have come down inside the 20-yard lines.
*PK Devon Bell missed his first three college field goal tries; now he has a four-make string going with a long connection of 42 yards. And he is 14-of-15 on PATs with the miss a clanking at Troy.
*State kicking produced seven touchbacks in all 2011. With a more generous starting point Bell and KO Brian Egan have combined for seven this year.
*Five Bulldogs have played in all 42 games under Mullen: Banks, DT Josh Boyd, Broomfield, FB Sylvester Hemphill, and WR Brandon Heavens. None have started every game. Banks has the most Mullen-era starts with 35.
*OG Gabe Jackson has the active consecutive start streak, 30 games and counting.
*Five true freshmen have played: PK Bell, DT Nick James, DT Quay Evans, DE Ryan Brown, and CB Cedric Jiles. Only three true freshmen played in both 2010 and '11.