*This is Homecoming weekend for Kentucky. It means the Bulldogs will have participated in four homecoming events this season along with games at South Carolina, hosting UAB, and at West Virginia.
About the Wildcats: It's rarified air around Lexington these days as Kentucky plays for unprecedented stakes in 2007. In his fifth season Rich Brooks has assembled a team that not only has ventured into the top-ten but even after a couple of legitimate losses maintained a first-ever listing in the BCS rankings. These Wildcats have, so to speak, the hosses to stay there, too, with maybe the SEC's most potent all-around offense and a defense that belies its stats when it counts most. Nor have losses to South Carolina and Florida deflated the Kats a bit, as the East is still there for the taking. And this team very much wants to take it and end the three-team domination of their Division.
Offense: This is the SEC's most productive unit, putting up 42 points per game (8th-best nationally). They also top the conference lists in total yardage and passing yardage, as well as first downs. It's no secret where the play-calling tilts of course, with Andre Woodson calling the shots and making the throws. The senior has emerged as a serious Heisman candidate, and not just because he set a NCAA record of 325 passes without an interception. It's the caught balls that matter, and Woodson already has over 2,200 yards and 26 touchdowns for this season by completing nearly 65%. He needs less than a dozen passes to throw a touchdown on-average, and has surpassed 200 yards in his last 14 games. The school TD record of 78 is obviously within Woodson's reach, with the assistance of a remarkable receiving group that rivals any in the land. But every group has a leader and senior Keenan Burton is top Kat after turning down early NFL entry. He's snared 44 balls for 544 yards and six scores, despite playing on a bum ankle lately. That hasn't slowed this pass attack with Dicky Lyons (40, 461, six TDs) also going long…the specialty of Steve Johnson with a 17.1-yard average on his 35 catches for another six scores. Talk about balance. Playing back on the wideouts frees tight end Jacob Tamme to roam underneath and he's caught 28 balls for 204 yards and four touchdowns. Oh, and at least one receiver has had 100 yards in six of their games. It's worth wondering just how good UK would be with a healthy ground game. The talent is there, it's just hurting as Rafael Little is (reportedly) still out this week with a thigh bruise and Tony Dixon has a collection of ailments. Until injury Little had rung up five 100-yard games, and had become only the fourth SEC back with 2,000 career rush yards and 1,000 receiving yards. Dixon, if available, is a legit alternate at 5.8 yards per-carry and had 59 yards in the Florida game. And '06 freshman flash Alfonso Smith is just now coming back from an ankle and missing three games. So current rookie Derrick Locke (351 yards, 5.8 per carry, 3 TDs) is this week's starter. They don't get as much respect as the stat-guys, and only LG Christian Johnson is mentioned in any all-star list. Yet this rebuilt line is doing its job, such as by not allowing a LSU sack. Not bad at all for a unit featuring two former defensive linemen and a converted tight end.
Defense: The scheme (4-3) is essentially the same. It's the coach and personnel that are different as secondary coach Steve Brown was promoted to coordinator, and to mold a unit that's still relatively young but with a healthy measure of experience. Of the two-deep at December's Music City Bowl, 18 return with eight starters…and only three seniors are listed as opening this weekend. There's still more for these guys to learn as UK is allowing almost 29 points-per game, 10th in the SEC, and is near the bottom in stopping the run. But this group does its part simply by holding the other guys down often enough for that offense to strike quickly. And that OT stop of LSU to win the game was a statement for the Wildcat D in and of itself. The real surprise on that play was that Wesley Woodyard didn't get the tackle. The senior WLB is the SEC's leader in stops for a second season with 85 in eight games; he had 122 as a junior to pace the league. Woodyard, a sure all-American and nominee for four POTY awards, is on an even faster pace in '07 in tackles-for-losses at 8.0. It was MLB Braxton Kelly making the decisive LSU tackle, one of his 41 this junior season as he carries the middle-load while Micah Johnson comes back from a knee procedure. Johnny Williams is supposed to start at strong-side but if a foot problem continues it will be Sam Maxwell. There's plenty of muscle up-front with tackles Corey Peters and Myron Pryor putting nearly 600 pounds in the middle of things. The ends both top 260 themselves but aren't slow afoot. Soph Jeremy Jarmon has blossomed into an all-star candidate with 6.5 sacks, third in the SEC this week, and senior Dominic Lewis is just as active from the other side. FS Marcus McClinton has missed a couple of games with injuries but came back last week. He's got 23 tackles, same as SS Roger Williams who is also back after a one-game absence. If either can't play, Ashton Cobb can and will step in at their positions. CB Trevard Lindley isn't confined to one side of the field, he turns up all over making plays and has a remarkable 39 tackles for the position. And E.J. Adams on the other corner has also battled an injury but appears up to speed for the season's stretch run. Kentucky is 4th-best in SEC turnover margin, and has twice as many interceptions as the opposition. So they may give up yards, but they also make things happen on this defense.
Specialists: Not that MSU folk need reminding, but Kentucky has been among the best—if not the very best—at returning kicks of both sorts for the past few years. It's more of the same for 2007, though Little is missed on punt returns where he was getting 8.0 yards. Burton is listed first here with just one try so far, for nine yards in place of DeMoreo Ford (seven returns, 5.3 yards). UK can't go wrong with either Burton (25.3) or Lyons (22.2) fielding kickoffs. Junior Tim Masthay punts at a 42.2 yard clip, though UK coverage has forced just three fair-catches. Soph Lones Seiber has been good on 11-of-14 field goals, with a long make of 48 yards though he's just 3-of-6 beyond the 40-mark.
The Series: This is 35th meeting of the Dogs and Kats, all but three played since 1944. The series became annual in 1990 and the teams designated ‘permanent' inter-Division opponents in '92. Kentucky owns a 20-14 lead and has won four of the last five meetings, where in the previous five years the Bulldogs had won four of five. The Wildcats are 13-4 in Lexington where State last won in 2000. Sylvester Croom is 1-2 against Kentucky, while Rich Brooks is 4-1 against State.
The Last Time (October 28, 2006): Mississippi State got a few more yards but Kentucky earned a few more points to survive a 34-31 shootout at Scott Field. And the gunners did dominate as the respective quarterbacks combined for nearly 700 yards. Again, Bulldog triggerman Mike Henig—recovered from an opening-day injury—had more yards at 384, on 22-of-41 tossing, for two touchdowns. But if Andre Woodson settled for 284 passing yards he was more efficient at 19-of-29, threw one more scoring pass and one less interception. Initially Woodson was superior with first-quarter scoring throws of 16 and 18 yards to Keenan Burton and Dicky Lyons. But the Wildcats lost the ball twice and missed a field goal in the second period and Henig responded with a short throw to Tony Burks that covered 75 yards for State's first score, then Henig found Jamayel Smith from 15 yards out for a 14-14 halftime deadlock. The third quarter was pivotal as Kentucky got a short touchdown run by Alfonso Smith and a 41-yard field goal around a 45-yard kick from MSU's Adam Carlson. And Woodson's third TD toss, of 33 yards to Burton early in the last period, had the Dogs fighting from behind again. Henig did find Burks again for a 36-yard touchdown, and at 2:20 Anthony Dixon dove across the goal line. But in-between the Kats got a short field goal by Lones Seiber that proved their margin of victory. Kentucky out-rushed State 106 to 24 yards with 92 yards from Smith. The Wildcats also held the ball over seven minutes longer.
Did You Know? Kentucky played before the largest home crowd in program history last week when 71,204 were at Commonwealth Stadium for the Florida game. Unfortunately they saw the longest home win streak, eight games, in UK history snapped by the Gators.
Bulldog Player Notes: DE Titus Brown has been holding at 16.5 sacks for the last four weeks, which ranks him 7th on the MSU list behind Greg Favor (19.0, 1994-97) for 6th. Brown was able to make a tackle behind the line Saturday, giving him stops for losses in 14 of his last 16 games. His 10.0 TFLs this year tops the team this year, as does his 6.0 sacks.
*The entire Bulldog defense has not notched a quarterback sacks in the last three games.
*Through seven games the Dog defense is credited with 50 tackles for losses of 180 yards. Brown and fellow DE Avery Hannibal have 13 of them. They also have over half the team's total quarterback ‘hurries' at 19 out of 34. In fact the two senior DEs have more hurries than all State's opponents have been credited with in eight games, 15.
*The Dog defense has intercepted nine passes through eight games; last year's group had 12 picks in a dozen games. Four of these interceptions have been returned for touchdowns by four different Dogs: CB Anthony Johnson (UAB), S De'Mon Glanton (Gardner-Webb), S Derek Pegues (Auburn), and LB Gabe O'Neal (Tulane). Probably not by coincidence, all those pick-sixes have come in a Bulldog victory.
*Glanton and Johnson are tied for the team-lead in pass break-ups at six apiece. The rest of the defense has 13 combined PBU's.
*Pegues, Johnson, and S Demario Bobo all have a pair of interceptions. Pegues has seven on his career and needs two more to break into the MSU top-ten. But his three touchdown-returns off interceptions are a career record. He also holds the season record with two pick-six plays in 2006.
*Pegues averages 19 yards in returns every time he picks off a pass.
*Now back on kickoff return, Pegues is along in second place for career chances with 70. He broke a tie with John Moore (68, 1985-89) for the #2 place. The record is 78 by Tony James (1989-92).
*And Pegues is also 2nd in career KO return yards with 1,548. James holds that mark, too, with 1,862 yards.
*The home-team statistician wasn't generous with MLB Jamar Chaney, crediting him with just one tackle at West Virginia. So while the junior still tops the team tackle-list at 51, fellow linebackers O'Neal and Dominic Douglas are now right behind at 50 each. And senior SLB O'Neal is tops in ‘solo' tackles with 32. But WLB Douglas is best of the trio with 5.0 tackles-for-losses.
*P Blake McAdams was having a strong October, averaging 43.7 yards on his 16 punts in the three games. Then at West Virginia he backslid, getting just 36.6 yards on eight kicks. But, two of these were downed inside the 20-yard line; that gives the junior punter 11 balls killed in the other team's red zone and just one touch-back all season.
*With those eight punts Saturday, McAdams now ranks 5th in career kicks with 179 having broken a tie with Mike Patrick (1972-74). Next up is the 198 punts by 4th-place Jared Cook (2001-04), the man McAdams succeeded. McAdams just passed 7,000 career yards with 7,180 now for 5th place. That's just over four miles of punts.
*Senior WR Tony Burks ran his consecutive-games with at least one catch to 16, with six in the West Virginia game. They only netted 41 yards, though, dropping Burk's per-catch production to 14.0 on 22 grabs. Last year he led the SEC in this unofficial category at 24.3 yards. Burks is still looking for his first 100-yard receiving game this year; he had five as a junior, tying the MSU season record.
*WR Jamayel Smith had been even with Burks for catches this year, but WVU held him to just one grab. It was good for 22 yards though and gives Smith a 13.4 yard per-catch rate. Burks (2) and Smith (1) account for half the team's six touchdown receptions.
*Since moving into the starting lineup FB Eric Hoskins has become a regular target. In three starts the walk-on has five receptions and 37 yards, and both his catches at WVU produced first downs. Fellow fullbacks Jeremy Jones and Brandon Hart have five catches and 21 yards between them. But, Jones has the only touchdown for either a fullback or tight end this year, on a eight-yard catch at Tulane.
*HB Anthony Dixon was held to 61 yards at West Virginia, but the sophomore still managed to climb some MSU career list. His second-quarter rushing touchdown gave Dixon 11 for the year and 20 for his young career, which ties him for 7th with Shorty McWilliams (1944-48). Only 20 games into his career Dixon has as many touchdowns and the MSU record of 27 (Michael Davis 1991-94) draws nearer each week.
*The season rushing touchdown record is also within reach, as Jackie Parker (1952) set the mark at 16. Dixon's 11 already gives him one of the ten-best MSU seasons ever for a ground-pounder.
*Dixon has already surpassed all his freshman year totals, which were class records in their own right. He is up to 755 yards (compared to 668), and has two more touchdowns. The soph is at 1,423 career yards and has six career 100-yard games, four of them this season.
*Freshman QB Wesley Carroll has just written his name in the MSU record book. He has thrown 109 passes this rookie year without an interception. The consecutive-non-interception mark had been 96 by Derrick Taite in 1996. There is no record for career-starting streaks without picks, though it's likely this freshman would own it.
*Carroll has thrown 33 and 34 passes the last two games. He got his first college touchdown pass last week, two of them in fact, against Tennessee.
*Carroll is 58-of-108 this season, 53.7%. His completions are netting an average of 9.5 yards.
*HB Christian Ducre got his second season and career rushing touchdown Saturday, on a three-yard run. His other touchdown was the game-winner at Auburn. Ducre's average gain of 4.4 yards is actually better than Dixon's 4.1 average.
*PK Adam Carlson did not attempt a field goal at West Virginia and remains 5-of-8 for the season, 13-of-24 for his career. And after his 47-consecutive PAT streak ended in the UAB game Carlson has been good on the last seven tries.
*Two Bulldog seniors hold the team lead in career games played. Both TE Dezmond Sherrod and DE Avery Hannibal have gotten on the field in 42 contests through four seasons. The consecutive-start lead belongs to P Blake McAdams at 31. C Royce Blackledge is first among the non-specialists in starts with 26-straight.
*A total of 38 Bulldogs have started at least one game this season. Only 12 players have started every game of 2007, including the two specialists.
*This year six true freshmen have played: LB K.J. Wright, QB Wesley Carroll, ST Karlin Brown, S Zach Smith, DT Lamarcus Williams, and OT Derek Sherrod.
*True freshmen who have not played are QB Chris Relf, S Wade Bonner, HB Robert Elliott, HB Marcus Green, LB Jamie Jones, CB Damein Anderson, LB Terrell Johnson, OL Addison Lawrence, OL/SN D.J. Looney, OL Dakota Merritt, PK Eric Richards (injured), DL Quentin Saulsberry, and FB Ethan Stockett.
*Redshirted 2006 freshmen who have played so far are: OG J.C. Brignone, SN Aaron Feld, OT Mark Melichar, DE Rodney Prince, TE Brandon Henderson, and DE Brandon Cooper who was activated in the UAB game. Classmates who have yet to see action are WR Alex Carpenter, TE Chris Herrera, DT Reggie Odom.