*The Bulldogs will not be televised for a fourth-consecutive week. That string snaps next week with a regional telecast of State's game at Alabama (11:30amCT, Lincoln-Financial Sports).
*Kentucky's last road win over a SEC West opponent was in 2003, at Mississippi State. The last Bulldog SEC road win of any sort was at Kentucky in 2000.
About the Wildcats: It's been four years since Rich Brooks was called out of retirement, and considering the serious circumstances the 65-year-old coach has managed to stop the blue-bleeding in Lexington. True, four wins in his first season is the best UK has done in this tenure, and it may be the end of the decade before the program fully recovers from damage done by two abrupt coaching changes and NCAA sanctions. Whether Brooks is even still around to reap the ultimate benefits is another issue. Yet nobody can deny that the roster is being rebuilt and the talent level improves annually, to the point that these Kats have an excellent shot at scoring a couple more wins in 2006…with this week's matchup one of them.
Offense: No, it's nothing like the ‘air raid' days of the late 1990s when Kentucky piled up yards and points in old WAC-style numbers. But this is an offense that can and does move the ball with frequency and efficiency. Two years ago UK was scoring 15.7 points a game; now it's up to 24.1 and that's including the shutout at LSU, a somewhat deceptive ‘0' as the yardage was there. The Wildcats will present all sorts of looks out of a truly multiple scheme, from base two-back and tight end to split backs with three-wides, and even four receiver sets. It's likely to be more of the latter with Andre Woodson at the controls. The junior quarterback has come into his own this season, with 15 passing touchdowns (tied for first SEC) after tossing just six in all '05 and only one in the last eight games. He's completing almost 57%, with just four interceptions out of 215 throws. In fact he is on a SEC-record pace for lowest career interception ratio. Woodson isn't the only triggerman on this offense either; watch for soph Curtis Pulley to take turns under-center when he's not running patterns. All those passing yards mean somebody(s) are catching a lot of balls this year. Such as WR Keenan Burton, one of the league's elite targets with 34 grabs for 524 yards and three scores already. As for getting into the end zone, that's where Dicky Lyons (23, 407, 7 TDs) shines. He also gets nearly 18 yards per catch. Naturally Kentucky likes throwing to backs and does it well, but the underappreciated threat is usually junior TE Jacob Tamme (15, 157, 1 TD). Speaking of backs, with Rafael Little out after knee surgery the ground game has taken a back seat and nets under 80 yards per game. Soph Tony Dixon (176 yards, 3.5 per carry) starts at tailback now, though Woodson can run on his own and Pulley is even better at scampering for gains. The front-five aren't all that old as a group but everyone has at least one varsity letter in the system. Michael Aitcheson has three ‘K's to his name; he began the year at right guard but moved to RT and has stuck there. His void has been filled capably by converted defensive tackle Jason Leger. Senior C Matt McCutchan has come back from missing three starts with an ankle sprain; and the left side stabilized by game-two with sophs Garry Williams and Christian Johnson.
Defense: Moving the ball hasn't been a problem for Kentucky; stopping the other side from doing as well or better is. The Wildcat defense is giving up 462 yards per game, last in this week's NCAA stats, and an average of 6.7 each time the ball is hiked. They ought to be better than the numbers because there are good players on this unit. Size, too, such as up in the middle of the four-man front. Sophs Myron Pryor (4.0 sacks) and Ventrell Jenkins bring nearly 600 pounds to the trenches, and senior Lamar Mills had started six-straight games before a shoulder problem kept him out at LSU. He should return this week. 260-pound DE Durrell White is a former linebacker and it shows with hits and stops behind the line, though UK also likes to use juco J.D. Craigman in pass-rush situations. The big tackle-stats go to a linebacking trio that plays beyond it's collective years. Junior WLB Wesley Woodyard has 65 tackles in seven starts, far and away leading MLB Braxton Kelly who is second on the squad at 37. Along with SLB Johnny Williams, these three have also broken up passes, forced and recovered fumbles, and generally arrived anywhere the ball is. SLB Ben McGrath also plays in some nickel sets. The secondary has been intact this season save for a single miss when SS Roger Williams was excused for a family crisis. The junior is still third in tackles at 35. The one to watch is FS Marcus McClinton, a sophomore star with 33 stops along with two picks and four forced fumbles. Another young standout is redshirt freshman CB Trevard Lindley with a squad-topping six breakups. If the Wildcats are concerned about passing they can also start CB Shomari Moore as an extra defensive back. By no means has this defense played up to expectations as far as giving up ground and scores. But they have demonstrated a dangerous knack for taking advantage of opponents' miscues. Kentucky ranks 9th nationally in recovered fumbles and 14th in total turnover margin. Nor are the Wildcats particularly penalty-prone. Whatever this defense gives up is earned.
Specialists: Little's return-talents are much-missed, but Burton has stepped into the breach and kept Kentucky competitive when the ball is kicked their way. He is netting 24.7 yards on kickoffs with one touchdown and 12.3 on punts. Freshman Lones Seiber was promoted to starting placekicker three games into the year and has made good on 3-of-5 attempts with a long effort of 41 yards. Soph Tim Masthay produces 39.1 yards per punt with ten dropped into the red zone and one blocked.
The Series: Kentucky owns a 19-14 lead in a series that dates back to 1914 but only became a regular SEC rivalry much later. These charter members of the old Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association played four times in the ‘teens, then did not meet again until 1944. There was another long break from 1959-71. Finally in 1990, after a five-year gap, State and Kentucky were linked as annual opponents, and since then MSU has a 9-7 lead. The Bulldogs are 9-4 at Starkville where Kentucky last won in 2002. Sylvester Croom is 1-1 against Kentucky, and Rich Brooks is 2-1 against State.
The Last Time: October 29, 2005 – Kentucky strung together 13 points through three quarters, sufficient to secure a homefield victory over an ineffective Bulldog offense in a 13-7 win at Commonwealth Stadium. The defeat spoiled a benchmark evening for MSU halfback Jerious Norwood, who became the school's all-time rushing leader by picking up 121 yards on 20 carries. But he was held out of the end zone, as was every Bulldog until 4:50 of the third quarter when Brandon Thornton scored on a 19-yard scamper. That was all State could put on the board though. Kentucky got a 35-yard field goal from Taylor Begley at 2:56 of the first period, then Rafael Little produced the home team's lone touchdown with a 8-yard run at 10:52 of the second quarter. It stayed 10-0 at halftime as State couldn't cross the UK 30-yard line despite changing quarterbacks after just two series. In the third quarter sub Mike Henig directed a drive right to the goal line, then fumbled the snap away. Kentucky took advantage with a 12-play drive ending on Begley's 33-yard kick for the 13-0 lead which proved sufficient. State did get 375 total yards, topping UK's 324, and Henig threw for 200 yards with an interception. Little ran 24 times for 114 yards and Andre Woodson was 13-of-27 for 141 yards and no picks.
Did You Know? *Kentucky has only six recruited scholarship seniors on the 2006 roster, and has played 13 true freshman this season.
*On gameday, Commonwealth Stadium (67,606 capacity) becomes the third-largest city in Kentucky.
Bulldog Player Notes: Mississippi State has not started the same 11-man lineup on either side of the ball in consecutive games so far this season.
*Sophomore CB Derek Pegues picked off a pair of passes at Georgia, giving him four for the season. That is one shy of moving into a tie (with 13 others) for sixth on the season-interception list. More impressively Pegues has twice scored on interceptions (vs. LSU and Jacksonville State) which already matches both the MSU season and career records.The other three Dogs who have done it in the same season before are Conner Stephens (2000), Walt Harris (1994), and Harper Davis (1948). Anthony Derricks (1995-96) and Ashley Cooper (1998-99) had two such plays for their careers.
*Pegues was limited in return opportunities at Georgia, which has cost him the top spots in the SEC rankings. This week he stands fourth in kickoff average at 26.3 yards, and fifth in punt runbacks at 15.6 yards. Pegues has run back one punt this year for a touchdown, 81 yards against JSU; his longest kickoff so far this season is 61 yards against Tulane.
*Pegues has just set the MSU season record with 28 kickoff returns, and his average return of 26.3 ranks seventh currently. He is up to 953 yards in his two seasons, ranking 10th on the MSU list already.
*Senior FS Jeramie Johnson forced two fumbles at Georgia, and could have been awarded a third. He has knocked five balls loose this season, after recording just three FF's the previous three years, and tops the SEC standings for 2006. Johnson is still awaiting his first interception of '06 though, needing two more to make the career top-ten. He has seven so far.
*Junior WR Tony Burks posted his fourth 100-yard afternoon of the season with 106 yards at Georgia on four catches. Burks had tallied 130, 103, and 118 yards in previous games, also with four catches each contest. Due to two catch-less games (South Carolina, UAB) he comes up short of making the SEC top-ten in yardage or catches per game. But his net of over 26 yards every time he touches the ball puts Burks up there with the league's best deep threats.
*But Burks is only second in team catches so far, at 20. That is one behind Lance Long's 21. Both also have a touchdown, though it took Burks having the ball knocked free at the LSU goal line and Long recovering the fumble in the end zone.
*Junior TE Eric Butler got his first score of 2006 when he pulled in a 17-yard pass in the third quarter of the JSU game. It was his eighth career touchdown, extending his MSU record at the TE position. Butler has caught just six balls all this season but averaged 20 yards per grab. His career average gain per grab is 13.5.
*Since rejoining the active roster soph WR Aubrey Bell has been active, catching five balls in two games for a 17.2-yard average. In his whole freshman season Bell had only two catches for 25 yards.
*Senior LB Quinton Culberson has recorded four double-digit tackles games this season, as many as he posted the previous three campaigns. State's tackle-leader still ranks 4th in the SEC in tackles-per-game at 8.6. He needs five stops this weekend to reach 250 for his MSU career.
*Junior DE Titus Brown remains second in the SEC in tackles for losses, with ten for the year so far.
*Brown and senior DE Michael Heard are tied for the team lead in sacks at five apiece. The rest of the Dog defense has only five sacks between them. Heard now has a team-topping 9.5 career sacks and 19.0 tackles for losses.
*Soph QB Mike Henig followed up a 183-yard passing day at home against JSU with a career-best 234 yards against Georgia. His previous best was 200 yards last year at Kentucky, off the bench.
*Henig is still on the wrong side of the touchdown-to-intercept ratio, with three throwing scores but 11 picks in his 13 career games.
*With three rushing touchdowns Saturday, freshman HB Anthony Dixon has six for his rookie season; as many as Jerious Norwood tallied in all 2005. Dixon's 319 rushing yards (3.5 per carry) also leads the team.
*Mississippi State has scored one offensive touchdown in a first quarter this season, that this past week at Georgia. The most productive period this season has been the fourth, with eight touchdowns…all from the offense.
*Three Bulldogs have now played in 42 career games: CB David Heard, S Jeramie Johnson, and DS Russell Cook. All also have started 27 games. But the most starts by a current player is the 32 for Quinton Culberson, in 38 games. He missed four games as a 2002 freshman with a broken ankle.
*OG Brian Anderson has the most consecutive starts with 26, while Heard and Culberson are both at 24-straight.
*There are 47 players on the current roster who have started at least one MSU game since 2004, including specialists. The latest additions to that list are OT Mike Brown, WR Aubrey Bell, and WR Jamayel Smith. A total of 72 Dogs have played in at least one career game on this roster. Redshirt Report: Twenty-three Bulldogs have made their college-game debuts this season, including seven true freshmen. First-year rookies yet to play and by now almost certainly not to are: OG J.C. Brigone, WR Alex Carpenter, DL Brandon Cooper, DS Aaron Feld, TE Chris Herrera, TE Brandon Henderson, OT Mark Melichar, WR Keith Mills, DT Reggie Odom, and DE Rodney Prince.