Mississippi State basically asks senior Tyson Lee to serve as a game manager, but Lee has thrown just three touchdown passes this season with an alarming nine interceptions. Still, Lee has more experience than the Kentucky tandem of Morgan Newton and Will Fidler, who are still trying to get the Kentucky passing game on track. Mississippi State backup Chris Relf returned from a two-game suspension against Florida and might see more action.
Advantage: Mississippi State
Kentucky's Derrick Locke should return to his usual dominant role in the running game after his load was lightened last week against Louisiana-Monroe to rest a strained knee. Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon is the school's all-time leading rusher and ranks 15th in Southeastern Conference history, but he's never had a big game against the Wildcats.
Kentucky's Randall Cobb will be the best receiver on the field Saturday night, but the Wildcats' offense is still waiting for a dependable No. 2 to develop. The primary threat for the Bulldogs has been true freshman Chad Bumphis, who was recruited by Kentucky. Bumphis has caught 24 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
The Wildcats' line continues its solid play. UK didn't reach the 200-yard rushing mark against Louisiana-Monroe last week, but the line still paved the way for nearly 6 yards a carry. MSU's offensive line has also been a team strength. The Bulldogs rank 18th in the country in rushing offense and have allowed a respectable 12 sacks in eight games.
Mississippi State isn't great at rushing the passer, but junior-college transfer Pernell McPhee has been a force inside with 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. The Bulldogs have also been decent against the run. The Kentucky defensive line is starting to take shape. Tackle Corey Peters has been on fire the past few games, and redshirt freshman Collins Ukwu is starting to come on at end, giving UK a reliable three-player rotation with DeQuin Evans and Taylor Wyndham.
Both teams have a super-productive trio of linebackers who represent the defenses' leading tacklers. Mississippi State's Jamar Chaney, K.J. Wright and Chris White have combined for 161 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss. UK's Micah Johnson, Danny Trevathan and Sam Maxwell have combined for 144 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said earlier this week that sophomore Ronnie Sneed will start in place of Johnson, who has a strained knee. Johnson is expected to play, however.
Mississippi State has given up some big plays in the passing game, but Kentucky hasn't looked like an offense capable of taking advantage since quarterback Mike Hartline went down. The UK secondary is getting closer to full strength, with cornerback Paul Warford firmly back in the fold. There's an outside chance cornerback Trevard Lindley could return Saturday night, but the more likely scenario is next week against Eastern Kentucky.
Mississippi State place-kicker Derek DePasquale, a walk-on who's filling in for the injured Sean Brauchle, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Florida, including a 43-yarder. Leon Berry has an 89-yard kickoff-return touchdown. The much-maligned Kentucky special teams provided a big boost last week when Randall Cobb returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown.
Advantage: Mississippi State