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UK looking to take next step against Mississippi State

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Gameday
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Kentucky vs. Mississippi State
Sat., Oct. 29 - 7:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky.
Gameday Information
Commonwealth Stadium
UK Game Notes Get Acrobat Reader | MSU Game Notes Get Acrobat Reader
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TV: Fox Sports South
Radio: UK IMG
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UK 2011 Team Stats MSU
16.6 Scoring/game 24.0
14.7 First downs/game 20.3
259.9 Total offense/game 376.3
142.9 Rushing yards/game 180.1
117.0 Passing yards/game 196.1
19.9 Kickoff returns (avg) 16.0
2.1 Punt returns (avg) 9.1
41.0 Net punting (avg) 36.8
28:08 Time of possession/game 27:08
28.0 Third down conversion 38.7
33.3 Fourth down conversion 55.6
-6 Turnover margin +5
27.3 Points allowed/game 19.3
388.7 Total yards allowed/game 340.4
205.7 Rush yards allowed/game 152.0
183.0 Pass yards allowed/game 188.4

Kentucky's performance against Jacksonville State was unquestionably the Wildcats' best of the season on both sides of the ball. Offensively, UK had a season-high 445 total yards, including 340 on the ground. On defense, the Cats forced three turnovers, scored a defensive touchdown and allowed less than 300 yards.

As UK resumes SEC play with a game against Mississippi State at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Joker Phillips will be calling on his team to continue that pattern of improvement against a higher level of competition. The Bulldogs may have struggled a bit in starting their season 3-4 (0-4 SEC), but Mississippi State features much of the same talent that won nine games a season ago.

Mississippi State may present a tougher challenge as the Cats continue their "second season", but Phillips has specific evidence of just how much a win over the Bulldogs could mean.

"If we look back on our past, there have been some games that have changed the whole season," Phillips said. "This game right here, in '06, changed our season and actually changed the attitude of the program. We're hoping this is one of those types of games."

Five years ago, UK traveled to Starkville, Miss., to face the Bulldogs sporting an identical 3-4 record to this year's team having lost two games in a row. Andre' Woodson tossed three touchdowns to lead the Cats to a 34-31 victory, a win that propelled UK to its current streak of reaching five consecutive bowls.

That game featured 668 yards passing between the Cats and Dogs, but this one figures to be a little different. Both squads rely on physical running games to move the chains.

"I'm sure that will be the whole game on both sides of the ball," Phillips said. "They've seen film of us in the (passing) game and we've seen the way they like to run the football."

In spite of playing without its top two running backs, UK excelled in the ground game behind a veteran offensive line that played the way so many expected entering the season. Raymond Sanders and Josh Clemons won't be able to play Saturday, but CoShik Williams and Jonathan George showed themselves to be more than capable of running behind a confident UK line.

"I think the best confidence you can give an offensive line is being able to run the football," Phillips said. "Our offensive line is definitely key to this next second half of the season."

The line has also protected well of late, allowing no sacks the last two weeks. That trend will need to continue as UK looks to bolster its passing game with Morgan Newton.

Like Kentucky, Mississippi State has played with two quarterbacks this season, though the Bulldogs do not seem to have settled on a signal caller as UK has. Chris Relf began the season as the starter due to his proficiency in the running game. Sophomore Tyler Russell, known more for his ability as a passer, replaced Relf and led a second half comeback on Oct. 8 against UAB before playing every snap at quarterback in a tight 14-12 loss against South Carolina.

Phillips did notice a difference in play calling with Russell under center, but the overall scheme Dan Mullen employs will remain mostly unchanged.

"They're still going to run their offense," Phillips said. "They did throw it a little bit more, but it was the same pass patterns they ran when Relf was in there. They don't run as much downhill run game; they run a lot on the perimeter with Russell. They run option, but most of it is to get it out of his hands and into the tailback's."

This will be the second week in a row the Cats have had to cope with an opponent that uses the option . Against Jacksonville State, UK stymied the option because of something simple the Cats will need to do again this weekend.

"One thing we did against (Jacksonville State) was our guys played their responsibilities," Phillips said. "You didn't see a lot of option stuff after the second quarter because we had played it so well."

Slightly disconcerting for UK is the fact that, in spite of their lackluster record, the Bulldogs have played even their toughest opponents extremely close. MSU had tight losses against South Carolina, Georgia, Auburn and even top-ranked Louisiana State. The Bulldogs gave the Tigers arguably their most difficult game of the season in a 19-6 loss, trailing by just a field goal entering the fourth quarter.

Phillips praised Mississippi State for the way they limited LSU's big plays and said that's exactly what the Cats need to do this weekend to beat the Bulldogs. UK has allowed touchdown drives of 50 yards or longer just 22-percent of the time so far this season, with most of those drives using big plays, or "X" plays in UK terms, to score.

Meanwhile, UK has been even less effective than its opponents in scoring on long drives, scoring just 18-percent of the time when having to drive 50 yards or more. In other words, UK needs to win the battle for field position on Saturday by limiting turnovers, moving the ball when opportunities are there and employing one its best weapons: punter Ryan Tydlacka.

"We've got to play field position, get a couple first downs, continue to move the chains, see if we can hit a couple big plays and, if we have to, punt the ball," Phillips said.

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