By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Dan Mullen doesn’t expect Mississippi State’s search for its first SEC win to get any easier this week.
The Bulldogs return to action Saturday with a visit to Lexington, where a pair of 3-4 teams will seek their first SEC victory of 2011. The Wildcats are coming off a 38-14 win over Division I-AA Jacksonville State to snap a four-game losing streak.
MSU is coming off a bye week after falling 14-12 to South Carolina. While State is favored to beat Kentucky, Mullen gives credence to history.
“Kentucky plays us tough every single year,” he said Sunday. “It usually comes down to the last play of the game. I imagine it’s going to be another brawl this year.”
Five of the last six meetings have been decided by seven points or less, including the last three. MSU won in Starkville last year, 24-17.
Mullen also believes Kentucky is better than its record. He cites its pass defense (183 yards per game, sixth in the SEC) and said turnovers have struck a big blow to the Wildcats’ fortunes – their minus-6 turnover ratio is 11th in the league.
“You don’t turn the ball over, they’re a very different football team,” Mullen said. “That can be corrected very easily, and it looks like they got that fixed during their bye week.”
Kentucky is last in the SEC in passing offense (117 ypg), and junior Morgan Newton has had a rough fall, completing 47.3 percent of his passes for 769 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
He was 10 of 16 for 105 yards, two scores and no picks versus Jacksonville State. The offense was heavily reliant on the run game, which accounted for 340 yards.
“They always do a great job of taking advantage of what you’re doing,” Mullen said. “You have too many in the box, they’ll check to pass. If you play pass defense, they’re usually pretty good running the ball.”
As for MSU, Mullen didn’t offer many specifics but feels the bye week was a productive one.
“We’ll see how it translates into production on the field Saturday.”