Kentucky (4-4, 1-4) and Mississippi State (6-2, 2-2) have been consistent. Over the last four years, the road team has come out victorious in this always interesting contest -- The results: ('09) MSU 31 UK 24; ('08) UK 14 MSU 13; ('07) MSU 31 UK 14; ('06) UK 34 MSU 31. With the 'Cats traveling to Starkville for this year's contest, let's hope that little factoid proves prescient.
Last year a reeling Wildcat squad -- The 'Cats had lost three straight, the last being a disheartening 28-26 setback to South Carolina -- traveled to Auburn in desperate need of a victory, and behind the stellar play of Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, UK came away from The Plains with a 21-14 win after scoring 14 fourth quarter points.
This season, the 'Cats, after a quick start, have lost four of their last five games. Making a win tonight absolutely vital to UK's bowl chances, or at least their chances of going to a warm weather destination. Are 'Cat fans in for another southern fried surprise? We'll find out at 7:00 EST tonight (Televised by ESPNU).
But in the meantime, for a rundown of MSU personnel, and a statistical comparison between the two teams, follow me after the jump:
Quarterback Chris Relf: 6-4, 240 lb junior -- Relf has completed 63 of 114 passes (55.3%) for 815 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. The highly mobile Relf has also carried the ball 107 times for 428 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
Relf is a very dangerous offensive weapon in the mold of Auburn's Cameron Newton. On the season, Relf has carried the ball at least 20 times in three games. During MSU's five-game winning streak, Relf has not thrown an interception.
Quarterback Tyler Russell: 6-5, 225 lb redshirt freshman -- Russell has thrown for 555 yards on 35-58 passing (60.3%), four touchdowns, and five interceptions. He's ran the ball 12 times for 60 yards (5.0 ypc).
Russell did not play last week in MSU's 29-24 win over UAB.
Running back Vick Ballard: 5-11, 215 junior -- Ballard has rushed for 516 yards on 78 carries (6.6 ypc) and 11 touchdowns.
Ballard is another strong, fast running back that the UK defense must find a way to stop. Powerfully built, Ballard is third in the SEC in total touchdowns with 12, so he definitely knows how to find the end zone. He missed last week's game versus UAB with an injury, but is expected to play tonight.
Running back LaDarius Perkins: 5-10, 190 lb redshirt freshman -- Perkins has run the ball 66 times for 366 yards (5.5 ypc) and three touchdowns.
Starting last week in place of the injured Ballard, Perkins rushed 18 times for 131 yards, recording a rushing and receiving touchdown.
All three of these backs (Relf, Ballard, Perkins) pose serious problems for UK's porous run defense. With the 'Cats giving up 176.1 yards per game on the ground, the Bulldog rushing contingent must be licking their chops in anticipation. If the Kentucky defense, in particular the linebackers, can find a way to at least slow down the MSU ground game, a Big Blue victory will be much more likely ... allow them to run for 200+ yards as a group, then warm-up the bus early.
Wide receiver Chad Bumphis: 5-10, 195 sophomore -- Bumphis has caught 33 passes for 461 yards (14.0 yards per reception) and four touchdowns.
Bumphis is eighth in the SEC in receiving yards per game (57.6).
Wide receiver/Kick returner Leon Berry: 6-0, 201 lb senior -- Berry has recorded eight catches for 188 yards (23.5 ypr) and one touchdown. He has also returned 14 kick-offs for an average of 26.8 yards (5th SEC) and one touchdown.
UK's kick-off coverage, which has been excellent at times, and spotty at other times (last week's Georgia game comes to mind), will have to stay in their lanes and fill the gaps, or Berry will go the distance. He's very quick and elusive; traits that tend to give the 'Cats' kick-off coverage fits. Berry, as evidenced by his exceptional 23.5 yards per catch, is a very real deep threat in the passing game and will challenge UK's young secondary.
Wide receiver Brandon Heavens: 5-10, 175 lb sophomore -- Heavens has caught 14 passes for 231 yards (16.5 ypr) and two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Arceto Clark: 5-10, 180 lb sophomore -- Clark has snagged 14 passes, good for 195 yards (13.9 ypr) and one touchdown.
Linebacker Chris White: 6-4, 245 lb senior -- White leads the Bulldogs, and is fifth in the SEC with 71 tackles. He's also recorded an impressive 12.0 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks (5th SEC).
White is an All-SEC-type of performer and someone Mike Hartline and the UK running backs need to account for on every play. Last year versus Kentucky, White recorded 8.0 tackles.
In MSU's 10-7 win AT Florida, White had 11 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Versus UAB last week, White had 14 tackles.
Linebacker K.J. Wright: 6-4, 250 lb senior -- Wright has executed 59 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, eight pass break-ups and four quarterback hurries.
Last year versus UK, Wright had a team-high 10 tackles.
Corner back Corey Broomfield: 5-10, 180 lb sophomore -- Broomfield has two interceptions on the year, and three pick-sixes for his career.
Defensive back Maurice Langston: 5-1, 180 lb senior -- Langston also has two interceptions on the season.
Punter Heath Hutchins: 6-1, 205 lb senior -- Hutchins has punted the ball 32 times this season, allowing only 17 return yards. Now that's incredible.
UK assistant head coach/defensive line coach David Turner led the MSU defensive line from 2007-2009 ... MSU ran for 409 yards against Houston earlier in the season ... MSU entered the rankings two weeks ago for the first time in nearly a decade ... The Bulldogs' five-game winning streak in their longest since 1999 ... During their five game win streak the 'Dogs are +7 in turnover margin; MSU is +4 on the season ... In the second half of games, MSU converts 54% of their third down conversion chances; 39% in the first half ... MSU is last in the SEC in kick-off coverage ... As a team, MSU has recorded 57 tackles for loss (7.13 per game is 23rd in the nation) ... The 17.0 points per game MSU allows to opponents is 14th best in the nation.
All About 'Cats & 'Dogs
Points per game: UK - 34.8 (22nd in NCAA) MSU - 28.6
Opponents points per game: UK - 31.6 MSU - 17.0
Pass yards per game: UK - 289.3 (23rd in NCAA) MSU - 171.2
Opponents pass yards per game: UK - 176.8 MSU - 217.0
Rush yards per game: UK - 147.6 MSU - 219.6 (14th in NCAA)
Opponents rush yards per game: UK - 176.1 MSU - 118.5
Total offense: UK - 428.5 MSU - 390.5
Total defense: UK - 353.0 MSU - 335.5
** In two of the last three UK losses (Ole Miss, Georgia) the 'Cats have given up a combined 35 points off turnovers.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!