After tough stretch, UK faces unranked foe

Backup Maxwell Smith is expected to start at quarterback for Kentucky tonight. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

Backup Maxwell Smith is expected to start at quarterback for Kentucky tonight. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

By Logan Lowery

Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Although Kentucky enters tonight’s game as an underdog, the Wildcats are delighted to see Mississippi State pop up on the schedule.

Kentucky has dropped four straight outings in to ranked opponents during the toughest stretch in the program’s 123 year history. The Wildcats lost to No. 7 Louisville, No. 19 Florida, No. 13 South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama by a combined score of 134-55.

Kentucky comes into tonight’s contest with a 1-5 overall record and are 0-3 in conference play. The Bulldogs will also be in search of their first SEC win, sitting at 0-2 in league play and 3-3 overall.

“Playing Mississippi State on the road is just a different challenge,” said first year UK coach Mark Stoops. “They’re a very good, well coached team. I think they’re very physical, a team that’s won plenty of football games the past two, three or four years. Playing on a Thursday night, I think they’re going to be very motivated, as we are, to get our first SEC win.”

MSU has been able to start strong, outscoring their opponents 142-69 in the first half this season. Stoops anticipates the Bulldogs pulling out all the stops early on to get the sellout crowd involved in front of a national television audience.

“I understand that their crowd gets into it quite a bit, and they’re going to want to play well and get off to a fast start,” Stoops said. “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. We have to go out and offset that and play and execute well to start the game.”

Stoops, who’s brothers Bob and Mike coach at Oklahoma, is impressed with the dual-threat capabilities of State quarterback Dak Prescott. The sophomore leads the Bulldogs in both rushing and passing and has accounted for 1,347 total yards of offense and nine touchdowns.

“Anytime you have a quarterback that can run and is physical it makes you add numbers,” Stoops said. “We have to be disciplined with all the different option game that they do and also the quarterback run game. Of course when you commit numbers then you’ve got to play the play-action ball.”

‘Ready to go’

The Wildcats will start backup Maxwell Smith at quarterback tonight but have sophomore Jalen Whitlow available. Whitlow has started four games this season but suffered an ankle injury in the last outing against Alabama.

“He’ll be ready to go, if we need him,” Stoops said. “Again, I think Max got most of the reps last week and this week, but Jalen will be ready to go and we’ll use him if we need to.”

logan.lowery@journalinc.com