Mississippi State was put on cowbell notice by the Southeastern Conference this week.
In June, the league announced a new rule that permitted Bulldogs fans to ring their traditional cowbells before games, at halftime, after games, during timeouts and after a score, but SEC officials told the school that they have been violating the policy and would probably be fined at the end of the year.
Mississippi State Athletics Director Scott Stricklin told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that the league will be watching MSU fans during Saturday night's home game against Kentucky and the home finale with Arkansas on Nov. 20 and would review the policy during the SEC's spring meetings.
"The last two games are going to be critical," Stricklin said. "These are our last two chances before this gets voted on again for us to prove we can handle this opportunity responsibly."
Still, the UK players and coaches are planning on cowbells ringing in their ears non-stop Saturday night. Defensive line coach David Turner, who spent three years at Mississippi State before joining the Kentucky staff this season, wouldn't mind if the cowbells are toned down.
"Hopefully they'll get a handle on them cowbells," he said. "I was all for them cowbells the last three years, but now if they ban them things that would be a good place to start."
Turner admitted that he felt like the cowbells were an advantage when he was on the MSU sideline.
"When they get amped up and start ringing things, it helps," Turner said. "You just have to control it and manage it. It's just another thing you have to deal with on the road, and we'll do that."
UK Coach Joker Phillips said he can tune out the cowbells.
"They've never been a factor for me," Phillips said.
And the Wildcats players didn't seem all that stressed over the cowbells during interviews this week.
"I love it," said senior defensive end Ricky Lumpkin. "I think it's unique, I think it's a neat thing. It doesn't irritate me. We've been to The Swamp and heard 90,000 people yelling. It's just another noise factor. Cowbells shouldn't really affect you. It's just a cowbell. You shouldn't be that mentally weak."
Sanders ready for second start
Freshman tailback Raymond Sanders will get the start Saturday night in place of the injured Derrick Locke. Sanders started the Auburn game but was ineffective, giving way to sophomore Donald Russell the following week against South Carolina. But Russell lost the handle on a pitch-out deep in his own territory against Georgia, and the staff went back to Sanders. The 5-foot-8, 185-pounder took advantage of a blitzing Bulldogs defense and found some creases, carrying 16 times for 79 yards and catching seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Sanders said he doesn't feel any pressure trying to fill the huge void left by Locke's absence.
"I know what I'm capable of," he said. "Not to sound cocky, but this is what I came here for. This is what they recruited me for. Locke is a great back, and it's tough to try and come in and fill his shoes, but before I leave I plan on being better than him. He wants me to be better than him. Even though he's out, he's still coaching me."
Turnovers a hot-button issue
Phillips said a good portion of his pre-game speech will focus on taking care of the ball after UK made three early turnovers against Georgia last week. UK hasn't committed a turnover in the four games it has won and has turned it over 10 times in the four games it has lost.
"The statistics speak volumes," Phillips said. "That's the difference between winning and losing. I'll definitely bring that up (in the pre-game speech)."
Mississippi State's season has also been shaped by how it protects the ball. The Bulldogs are plus-7 during their five-game winning streak after going minus-3 during their 1-2 start.
"There is no more telling stat in football," MSU Coach Dan Mullen said.