Kentucky-Mississippi St.: Keys to tonight's game

mstory@herald-leader.comOctober 23, 2013 

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Maxwell Smith (11) trows to Kentucky Wildcats running back Raymond Sanders (4) during the first half as Kentucky plays Florida in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Amy Wallot

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Quick facts about Thursday night's University of Kentucky football game at Mississippi State:

Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC) at Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2)

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.

TV: ESPN

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 91, Sirius Channel 91

Series: Kentucky leads 21-19, but Mississippi State has won four in a row.

Last meeting: Mississippi State won 27-14 on Oct. 6, 2012, in Commonwealth Stadium.

Line: Mississippi State by 10.

THE KEYS

Be close at halftime

So far this season, Mississippi State has sprinted from the gates in games but sagged to the finish line. Through six contests, the Bulldogs are averaging a robust 23.7 points a game in the first half, but only 6.8 points after halftime. The second quarter is especially a danger zone for Kentucky against State. So far this season, the Cats have been outscored 69-28 in period number two; MSU has buried its foes 86-34 in the second quarter.

Contain a mobile QB

Historically, Kentucky defenses have been all but helpless against quality dual-threat quarterbacks. MSU sophomore Dak Prescott has run for more than 100 yards three times this year and has accounted for 10 touchdowns (six rushing, three passing, one receiving) so far in 2013. If you are looking for a sign of a new day in UK football, watch if Mark Stoops and D.J. Eliot's defense plays better against a mobile QB than has been Kentucky's custom.

Maximize Maxwell

Jalen Whitlow's ankle injury opening the door for pocket-passer Maxwell Smith to return as Kentucky's starting quarterback could be a plus for UK. In its two SEC losses, Mississippi State has been strafed through the air. For the Wildcats to take advantage, it would help if Smith could throw Thursday night like the quarterback who averaged 322 yards a game passing in Kentucky's first three games of 2012 — before injuries sidelined the California product for the season.

THE MOOD

Is both apprehensive and expectant. With Kentucky having finished a stretch of facing four straight ranked foes, the hope was the Cats could make some noise on the back side of their schedule — except those teams now look more formidable than in the pre-season. Still, Mark Stoops and Co. have a chance to end a four-game UK losing streak to Dan Mullen and MSU before an ESPN national audience. That would be a significant breakthrough for Stoops.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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