*These teams have only one opponent in common so far, with both losing to Florida. The Wildcats fell 49-28 at home while State lost 35-9 in Gainesville. There are no common non-conference foes.
*Mississippi State is 0-2 against East teams, while Kentucky is 0-1 against the West with a game next week against Auburn.
*Mississippi State is attempting to end a 19-game losing streak in SEC road play which goes back to 2000. The last Bulldog league win away from home was…Kentucky. The Wildcats were also on the wrong side of State's last league win anywhere, 22-7 last year at Scott Field. The last MSU win of any sort on the opponent's home field was in 2002 at Memphis.
About the Wildcats: Only insiders can say what Kentucky really hoped for when Rich Brooks came out of a two-year retirement (and nine years after leaving college ball) to take over a program reeling under the double-shock of Hal Mumme's NCAA probation and the abrupt defection of Guy Morriss to Baylor. With a month left in his third season Brooks is 7-22 at Kentucky and barring an incredible November run most SEC observers anticipate a winter change. Then again, could better have been asked from the situation Brooks inherited? MSU's current staff certainly can relate. The lingering effects of NCAA sanctions mean UK has just 69 recruited scholarship players on the roster, and the injury bug has piled-on this fall with no less than 18 surgeries since August. Some 13 starters have missed one or more games already and four players (two starters) were lost for the season. Now, all that said, these surviving Kats and their coach are showing mid-year improvement and the offense is markedly better all around. Maybe the fact of most immediate interest is Kentucky has surely circled this as their best chance to get a SEC victory on the home field.
Offense: It isn't showing in the record yet, but scoreboards are looking brighter for Kentucky this season. An offense ranked 114th last season in scoring and 115th in yardage is more respectable, with average points climbing by almost a touchdown. Staff changes have clearly helped as former wideout coach Joker Phillips now runs the whole offense, and new coaches were hired for the quarterbacks and linemen. What's helped even more is the maturing of two sophomore playmakers. Quarterback Andre Woodson lettered as a frosh, now he's the starter and making things happen with a 59% passing percentage, 899 yards, and five touchdown passes. At one point he'd thrown 153 balls without an interception, though he's had four intercepted in mid-season now. Woodson also does a good job spreading the ball around in a very versatile scheme that will line up two, one, or no backs, and a variety of tight/split end combinations that keeps defenders guessing. One sure thing is Rafael Little will touch the pigskin early and often. The 195-pound soph is the starting tailback and has run for 5.1 yards an attempt with three TDs. But he'll also line up in the slot or even split-out, where Little has 16 catches for 119 yards. He leads the SEC in all-purpose yardage at 143.8 per game. 220-pound Arliss Beach gets the tough yards on the goal line with five scores. Senior Scott Mitchell has emerged as the deep threat with 16 grabs and a 13.8-yard average, while tight end Jacob Tamme has 11 catches. Wideout Glenn Holt is a two-way scorer as well with a catch and a reverse-run for touchdowns. The catching-corps has been somewhat shorthanded with Keenan Burton hurting a knee, but opening-day starter Tommy Cook is back in the lineup. The same five linemen who opened the year have started all six games. It's a somewhat-smallish group by SEC standards, averaging under 290 pounds, and has allowed 21 sacks. The biggest issue for UK is a turnover margin rated 114th in the latest NCAA stats. But the Wildcats also have only 26 penalties so far, least in the league.
Defense: Here's the statistical story in-brief. In the latest NCAA standings, Kentucky ranks 106th in scoring defense, 101st in rushing defense, and 100th in total defense. But this is the point of the season when the Wildcat D hoped to show up better, against a pair of SEC squads from Mississippi that aren't exactly offensive powerhouses. Last week the Kats did limit Ole Miss to 13 points. That has to offer some confidence for this matchup. Kentucky's defensive line can only wish it had the lineup-consistency of their offensive counterparts. This group has been hardest-hit by injuries. Opening-day DT Lamar Mills it out for the year DE Travis Day is sidelined this week. Senior DT Trey Mielsch, who can also play end, is the ‘ironman' of the unit with ten-straight-starts, and his three varsity letters equals the other three starting linemen's combined experience. Soph Jason Leger has taken Mills' job beside Mielsch, while Jay Parsons and Durrell White open at ends and average under 250 pounds. There's a little more stability at linebacker though this is a younger threesome than began the season. Soph Joe Schuler has taken one outside job away from senior Ramond Fontaine, a three-year starter, and the new kid has produced 26 tackles. On the other out-side soph Wesley Woodard has emerged as the team's leading tackler with 54 stops, and given the Kats a needed boost of speed in support. Two freshmen take care of middle LB with true rookie Braxton Kelley having a fine first season and 39 tackles in six games. For years the key to Kentucky defense has been an active secondary. It's a good group again though also impacted by injuries, such as the loss of September starting FS Marcus McClinton. So senior Thorpe Award nominee Muhammed Abdullah has had to move from strong safety to centerfield where he still makes plenty of plays (47 tackles). Soph Roger Williams has been promoted to SS and played well. The corners are SEC-tested with senior Antoine Huffman (23 career break-ups) and junior Bo Smith.
Specialists: Shades of Derek Abney…the Wildcats are back among the league's best in returning kicks. Little is notching 15.4 yards running back punts, while either Draak Davis or David Jones fields kickoffs and has UK rated 3rd nationally at 30.9 yards. Placekicking is harder to judge as Taylor Begley is just 2-of-4 in field goals this year with nothing over 40 yards. But he does have 185 career points and did have a made-PAT streak of 92 until the South Carolina game. True frosh Tim Mathay is only punting for 35.2 yards and Kentucky net-punts for just 31.0 yards, tied for 9th in the SEC.
The Series: World War I had barely kicked off when Mississippi State and Kentucky first met in 1914, at Lexington. The host Wildcats won that one 19-13, then the Maroons took the return game in Starkville then next year. And the series has been relatively balanced since, as Kentucky owns a 18-14 lead. The series halted before the Great War ended and there was only one other meeting until the 1950s. After occasional matchups in the 1970s and ‘80s the rivalry became fixed in 1990 and now these teams are permanent inter-Divisional opponents in the SEC's rotation. Since 1990 State has a 9-5 lead including a victory last fall at Scott Field. Kentucky leads 12-4 at Lexington, and Rich Brooks is 1-1 against State. Kentucky has the longest win-streak with consecutive victories in 1977-84-85-90. State's longest streak is three, from 1999-2001.
Connections: UK quarterback coach Kurt Roper began his coaching career as a grad assistant at Mississippi State. MSU offensive coordinator and UK d-line coach Rick Petri were on the South Carolina staff in 1998. Bulldog cornerback David Heard and Wildcat linebacker Dennis Johnson both played at Vicksburg High School. And, though not directly dealing with football, Kentucky media relations director and basketball PR chief Scott Stricklin is a native of Jackson, a MSU alumnus and former PR aide…and a student contributor to Dawgs' Bite magazine. His career did not seem to suffer irreparable harm.
Did You Know? Here's a stat to watch this weekend: Kentucky ranks last in the SEC in defending on third down…while Mississippi State ranks last in converting on third down.
*This is the 33rd season Kentucky has played home games at Commonwealth Stadium, which opened in 1973. Last year UK averaged 64,677 for home games and ranked 28th nationally in attendence. Capacity is 67,606.
*Defensive coordinator Mike Archer's son Jeff is a senior long-snapper.
Bulldog Record Watch: Halfback Jerious Norwood is setting a torrid pace at the end of his Bulldog career. His 257-yard effort against Houston established the new program game record, breaking James Johnson's 1998 standard of 237 yards. He is only the third Bulldog (with Johnson and Kevin Bouie in 1994) to gain over 200 yards in a single game. It was also the 13th-best game every by a SEC running back.
*That big day not only set a game record but vaulted Norwood from fifth place all the way to second on the career rushing chart. In one day he passed Johnson (2,452), Michael Haddix (2,558), and Michael Davis (2,721) on the ladder, and now his 2,767 leaves Norwood within one big run of breaking the school standard of 2,820 set by Walter Packer in 1973-76. Norwood now has 487 rushes in four seasons, thid behind Davis (578) and John Bond (572).
*Norwood also posted his 11th 100-yard game as a Bulldog and a second-straight after 111 yards at Florida. He passed Dicenzo Miller, Davis, and Haddix who had 10 ‘century' games; now he only trails the dozen by Packer.
*Senior Willie Evans scored a pair of sacks in the Houston game, which gives him 18 for his career. He broke a tie with Robert Young and now trails Greg Favors (19.5 sacks) for fifth place. The career record of 49 by Billy Jackson (1980-83) is out of reach and likely always will be, though 25 years ago the statistic was judged differently.
*Evans is leading the SEC in sacks this season at 8.5. He also has the second-most tackles by a league defensive lineman at 5.1 per game.
*After catching ten passes in the first four games of 2005, tight end Eric Butler has been shut out for three-straight games and not caught a ball in October. In September he had 125 receiving yards and three touchdowns, one off his 2004 MSU season record of four TD grabs. Butler already owns the career TD-catch record for his position at 7.
*Placekicker Keith Andrews is expected to miss this weekend's game with a groin strain. This, after hitting a pair of field goals and one PAT in the Houston game before the injury to open the second half. Andrews is now 11-of-18 on field goals for two seasons; and his career PAT mark is 28-of-28, leaving him nine shy of the school record. Kinney Jordan set the standard in 1975-76 by making 37-of-37 points-after.
*Freshman punter Blake McAdams had a 46.2-yard average on six kicks against Houston, raising his rookie season average to 43.1 yards. That ranks the first-year kicker second in the SEC standings, behind the 45.0-yards of Auburn's Kody Bliss.
*Junior quarterback Omarr Conner did not throw an interception in the Houston game, but his completion percentage dropped to 52.8. Conner has tossed eight touchdowns this season, four of them in the opening game as he tied the school record.
*Junior flanker Will Prosser has 23 receptions to lead his team. In fact the next two on the list, Tee Milons and Norwood, have 25 combined catches and 233 yards to Prosser's 208 yards.
*The race for top-tackler on this team tightened by two. Safety Jeramie Johnson now has 49 stops, and middle linebacker Quinton Culberson 47.
Rookie Report: 11 of the 21 true freshmen on this 2005 roster have played in at least two games. The latest to be activated were OT Calvin Wilson and LB Jimmy Miller. One true frosh is a starter, P Blake McAdams, and WR Aubrey Bell is in the regular rotation of wideouts. Seven others are in backup or special teams roles for now: KR/CB Derek Pegues, DE Charles Burns, LB Jamar Chaney, OG Anthony Dunning, CB/S Keith Fitzhugh, OT Michael Gates, and RB Brandon Hart.
The newcomers who have not played yet are: WR Tay Bowser, OG Johnny Carpenter, WR Adron Chambers, QB Ty Evans, WR Corey Gardhigh, OT Craig Jenkins, DB Jarvis Kyles, QB Tray Rutland, OL Chris Spencer, and DE Quinton Wesley. Of those, Carpenter and Wesley are dressing for SEC games and Chambers is now practicing at defensive back.