Scouting report: Kentucky at MSU

Kentucky defensive end Za'Darius Smith is an impact player who could be squaring off against MSU left tackle Blaine Clausell. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Kentucky defensive end Za’Darius Smith is an impact player who could be squaring off against MSU left tackle Blaine Clausell. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

KEYS FOR VICTORY

1. Get after the QB

Like last year, Kentucky enters tonight’s game with question marks at quarterback due to injury. Jalen Whitlow suffered an ankle injury against Alabama and although he practiced this week, sophomore Maxwell Smith is expected to start under center.

In 2012 it was Smith who missed the game and Whitlow split time with Patrick Towles. MSU was able to notch four sacks in that contest which was the most against any opponent in 2012. The Bulldogs have just eight sacks on the year but have 40 tackles for loss through six games. State had only 64 stops behind the line of scrimmage in 13 games last season.

2. Strong second half

The Bulldogs have been able to start strong so far this season but their efforts in the second half have left a lot to be desired. Mississippi State is outscoring its opponents 142-69 in the first half but have been outscored 69-41 in the second.

The fourth quarter has especially been brutal for the Bulldogs being outscored 49-17. MSU let a win at Auburn slip away in the final seconds and were nearly upended by Bowling Green after being shutout in the second half in its last outing. The Bulldogs need to find balance between the two halves tonight.

3. Build Bell’s confidence

Naturally State wants to score touchdowns but if kicker Devon Bell can get come field goals to split the uprights it would go a long way for the sophomore’s confidence.

Bell has made five of his 10 tries this season and is just 2-of-7 on field goals of 30-yards or more. He has a strong leg as evidenced by his 16 touchbacks on the year but accuracy has been an issue all season.

WHAT TO WATCH

When MSU has the ball

It will be interesting to see if Dan Mullen sticks with the two quarterback approach for a full game or abandons it in the second half as has happened in the last two games. Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell have alternated the past two starts and were interchanged by series in the first half. Prescott has been the signal caller primarily in the second half.

Kentucky has only one interception all season but has recovered six fumbles.

When Kentucky has the ball

Kentucky has only scored multiple times in three games this season. The Wildcats are last in the league in scoring offense as well as 13th in rushing and total offense.

UK is generating just 352.3 yards and 20.3 points per game. The Wildcats are gaining 150.8 yards on the ground and were limited to 84 last year against MSU.

CRUCIAL MATCHUP

MSU left tackle Blaine Clausell vs. UK DE Za’Darius Smith

Former East Mississippi Community College defensive end Za’Darius Smith followed defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh to Lexington and ranks sixth in the SEC with 4.5 sacks. State left tackle Blaine Clausell did not dress against Bowling Green due to injury and could be exploited by the Wildcats if he isn’t 100-percent healthy.

Logan Lowery