UK Football

Rivalry is key to bowl hopes

Louisville and Tennessee are the first schools that come to mind when thinking about University of Kentucky football rivals.

Quietly, the Wildcats are building a nice little rivalry with Mississippi State.

The Cats and Bulldogs have typically been at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference food chain but have been fighting their way up in recent years, butting heads along the way.

Kentucky was in the doldrums two years ago after a 49-0 loss at LSU but came into Starkville and pulled off a 34-31 win that sparked a run of two consecutive eight-win seasons and Music City Bowl trophies. It was a physical game set up by some pre-game trash talk from Wildcats Dicky Lyons Jr. and Jeremy Jarmon.

State returned the favor last year with a 31-14 whipping of a Kentucky team ranked 14th in the nation.

"I definitely think it's starting to turn into a rivalry game," said Jarmon, a junior defensive end. "What a lot of people don't know is that there's always a lot of talk and a lot of emotion in this game."

Jarmon also mentioned the similarities between the programs and their head coaches, UK's Rich Brooks and MSU's Sylvester Croom.

"It's always a fun game because they're a very physical football team, and that's the way we like to play," Jarmon said.

"We both have the same mentalities and the same style head coaches. Coach Brooks and Coach Croom are similar in a lot of ways. They believe in lining up and playing traditional, I-formation football and being physical."

Much like the past two years, Saturday's game could have post-season ramifications. The Wildcats (5-3, 1-3 SEC) will become bowl-eligible with a win, and with games left against Georgia, Vanderbilt and Tennessee, a loss would put them in a tenuous position in the season's final month.

The Bulldogs (3-5, 1-3) still have road trips to No. 2 Alabama and Mississippi remaining, so a win Saturday is almost a must if MSU wants to make a second straight bowl. Croom spoke with a sense of urgency this week.

"This is a critical juncture for both us and Kentucky," Croom said. "This will be a real test for our football team. We have to find a way to do whatever we can to win this game and do whatever it takes."

It has been an interesting week in the UK camp, as sophomore quarterback Mike Hartline made waves with his statements about being benched in favor of freshman Randall Cobb. But Brooks said he's confident that his team can get things back on track.

"Guys are trying, and that's all I can ask," Brooks said. "They're concerned, they want to do it right and they want this thing to end up like we all want it to end up and are trying to get it there. The other side of the coin is that Mississippi State is going through the same thing we are. They need this game just as much as we need it."

Jarmon said the Cats need to shake the negative perceptions left by last week's 63-5 loss at Florida.

"If I was Mississippi State and I saw us on film and the mistakes we made, I'd be confident," Jarmon said. "They're a physical football team, but I think we're more physical. If the team that's been practicing this week shows up on Saturday, we should be fine."