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Notebook: Cats preparing for quick-starting Bulldogs

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Mark Stoops will lead Kentucky into a Thursday game at Mississippi State this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops will lead Kentucky into a Thursday game at Mississippi State this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The last time Kentucky hit the road, the Wildcats found themselves trailing 21-0 early in the second quarter after a game-opening blitz by South Carolina. UK would steady the ship and nearly rally to victory, but the slow start ended up being too much to overcome.

A few weeks later -- as his team prepares for a trip to Mississippi State -- head coach Mark Stoops knows UK will need to be ready for an opponent looking to put UK in a similar hole.

"I think it's no secret any time you're playing a team that's struggled a little bit like we have, that's what they're going to say, they're going to want to get off to a fast start and put a dagger in us early," Stoops said. "We have to go out and offset that and play and execute well to start the game."

Mississippi State has scored 142 of its 183 points in the first half so far this season, outscoring opponents by 73 points before halftime and being outscored by 28 after the break.

Stoops also said he expects Mississippi State to try to involve its home crowd in Davis Wade Stadium early, one that has a reputation for affecting opponents with its unique form of ambient noise.

"The cowbells is going to be new to me," Stoops said, referring to Bulldog fans' traditional noisemakers.

Also new to the Cats will be the Thursday-night kickoff. UK hasn't played a Southeastern Conference game on a Thursday since 2007 and Stoops is already pondering game-day routine.

"There will be some subtle changes in there because Saturday morning they're up usually watching football if we're playing a Saturday night game or in between meetings, and now they'll be sitting there watching soap operas, I guess," Stoops said, drawing laughs at his Monday press conference. "I think we'll try to get them up and have a few more meetings and not as much dead time."

Though players' television-viewing habits may be a consideration, Stoops is much more concerned about a Mississippi State team (3-3, 0-2 SEC) also looking for its first conference win.

"You see a physical team, a team that can create the quarterback run game, put you in a bind with the quarterback run game and still be physical, throw the ball off of that, the play actions off of that," Stoops said. "It'll be a real challenge."

Stoops talks Madness, dancing

Friday was a holiday of sorts for the Big Blue Nation, as UK's men's and women's basketball teams held their annual Big Blue Madness event. Stoops, however, was holed up at the Nutter Training Facility preparing for Mississippi State.

"I had some work to do, but I would have enjoyed being there myself," Stoops said. "I'd like to see Matthew Mitchell do his dance and all that."

As a follow-up, Stoops was asked whether he himself would dance if he knew it would help his recruiting efforts. He gave a progressively more honest answer.

"I probably would," Stoops said. "In fact I know I would. I probably have. I'm just not as talented as Matthew, so I can't do it for everybody to see."

On a more serious note, Stoops does take notice of the passion of Kentucky fans when he sees a night like Madness. It also makes him even more steadfast in his belief in UK football's bright future.

"I think when our recruits come on campus and our players are on campus and they see the success of all of these programs and the way they go about their business, I definitely think it helps," Stoops said. I think we feel an obligation to live up to those standards, and we're working to get there, and we embrace that.  We want to be at the level of some of these programs, and we're working hard to get there."

Whitlow returns to practice

Soon after Jalen Whitlow sustained a sprained ankle in UK's loss to Alabama, Stoops said he did not expect the sophomore quarterback to be available for the Mississippi State game.

After Whitlow practiced on both Sunday and Monday, there is more hope.

"He was out there practicing," Stoops said. "Max (Smith) was getting most of the starting reps but he was out there working, and we'll see how it goes the next couple days."

Smith was listed as the starter on UK's updated depth chart on Monday with Whitlow listed as the backup. Stoops said Whitlow "has improved" and will practice again on Tuesday and no decision on a starter has yet been made.

"We'll see how it plays out here today and tomorrow," Stoops said.

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