STARKVILLE – Dan Mullen is 4-0 against Kentucky since taking over at Mississippi State in 2009.
Those battles have been decided by 14 points or less with three games taking place in Lexington. Thursday Bulldogs will host Kentucky for just the second time during Mullen’s tenure.
The Wildcats are just 1-5 under first year head coach Mark Stoops. But Mullen can already see a change in UK, especially on the defensive side of the ball which is Stoops’ pedigree.
“They are a very different team than they have been in the past,” Mullen said. “I see them playing some really good defense at times. They’ve got some guys on the inside of their defense that have been there for a long time. They’ve played very hard at times but have given up some big plays but it’s a new staff and a new system and it’s just something to get adjusted to.”
Kentucky’s lone win of the season came in a 41-7 blowout of Miami (OH) but have lost four straight since to Louisville, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama.
On offense, the Wildcats are averaging 352.3 yards and 20.3 points per game this season.
“I think they are a much more explosive offense than I’ve seen them be in the past in putting up yards,” Mullen said. “They are probably not scoring as many points but they are putting up yards. That makes it scary. They are moving the ball on just about everybody they are playing and I’m sure they’ve spent the bye week fixing some of the red zone things so they can finish off drives.”
Both teams were off this past weekend to prepare for the Thursday night matchup. MSU has taken the past two days off but will resume work this afternoon for what is usually its Wednesday’s practice routine.
“This one is a little different bye than the first one since we’re playing on a Thursday night,” Mullen said “We’ll find out when they get back today because we gave them 48 hours off. They’ve had two days off and we’ll see how they come back and respond. Focus at practice today is going to be critical for us.”
The injury bug has bitten the Bulldogs all season. Several key players have already been lost for the season while others have had to miss time. The constant injury battle has caused Mississippi State to juggle its depth chart throughout the year causing a small case of identity crisis.
“I think we know what type of team we have but we’re always trying to tweak and adjust off of who is actually able to play from game to game,” Mullen said.
State was without left tackle Blaine Clausell, defensive ends Preston Smith and Torrey Dale, safety Dee Arrington and cornerback Jamerson Love in its last game against Bowling Green.
“We’ve really tried to rest some guys but we’re hoping to have people at least available for us for the game,” Mullen said.
Right guard Justin Malone, tight end Gus Walley and safety Jay Hughes have already been lost for the season. Linebacker Ferlando Bohanna was added to that list after his season debut against Bowling Green.
Bohanna had missed the first five games due to a preseason concussion but was cleared to play against the Falcons. The junior from Memphis, Tenn., recorded a tackle before suffering a second concussion and has been ruled out for the year.
“He had a concussion earlier in the year but was 100-percent healthy and then got another one during the game,” Mullen said. “I don’t think it was a very severe one during the game but it was completely separate from the other one that he had previously. But the fact that he’s had more than one in a year I think is what is going to really put the brakes on for everybody. We are going to error very cautiously on the side of the player’s safety.”
Mullen stated following the Bowling Green game that Bohanna’s career could be over but that determination has not been made yet.