Published October 22, 2014
Lexington, KY – Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The nation's No. 1 team hopes to return from a bye week fresh, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs venture to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats in an SEC clash at Commonwealth Stadium.
Mississippi State has shocked the college football landscape by becoming the fastest team in the 78-year history of the AP poll to go from unranked to No. 1, doing so in just five weeks. The Bulldogs' ascension came thanks to a three-game stretch where they defeated three nationally-ranked teams, downing LSU (34-29), Texas A&M (48-31) and most recently Auburn (38-23) at home on Oct. 11 to improve to 6-0.
Despite his team's meteoric rise, coach Dan Mullen is keeping a level head and set out to keep his bunch focused during last week's bye.
"I think our guys understand how much we have to improve and that we have to get better," Mullen said. "I think our guys can really see the areas we need to improve. If you go through the motions you certainly are not going to improve."
While Kentucky's success isn't on the level of Mississippi State's, its campaign has been nearly as surprising. At 5-2, it has already topped its combined win total from the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The Wildcats came back down to Earth last weekend, however, ending a three-game win streak with a 41-3 loss at LSU.
"Another great challenge this week, playing the No. 1 team in the country," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "We will have our hands full and need to play a whole lot better."
The Wildcats hold the slimmest of advantages in the all-time series with the Bulldogs, 21-20, but Mississippi State is 5-0 versus Kentucky in the Mullen era.
Mississippi State, which has scored 34 points or more in all six games, ranks first in the SEC in total offense (529.7 ypg) and second in scoring offense (41.8 ppg). In the win over Auburn, the unit amassed 469 yards against one of the nation's best defenses.
The offensive attack is led by the Bulldogs' Heisman hopeful under center. Dak Prescott has been sensational, keeping defenses off balanced with his dual- threat presence. He's passed for 1,478 yards on 61.5 percent completions, ran for 576 yards and accounted for 22 touchdowns, while tossing only four interceptions.
With defenses respecting Prescott's dynamic playmaking ability, there have been plenty of holes for Josh Robinson to run through, and he's taken advantage with 689 yards and eight touchdowns on 98 carries (7.0 ypc).
De'Runnya Wilson has just 18 catches this season but has made the most of them with 319 yards and six touchdowns. Jameon Lewis missed the last two games with a leg injury but is expected to return this week. The versatile playmaker has 15 receptions and 350 all-purpose yards, having even thrown for a 24-yard touchdown.
"We have our most explosive player coming back," Mullen said of Lewis. "That just added another weapon that the defense has to be concerned about."
The Bulldogs' strong defense has been equally important in their incredible run this season. Although the unit allows 428.8 ypg, which is last in the league, it gives up just 20.0 ppg and has forced 16 turnovers.
Preston Smith has made plays all over the field with 19 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, nine QB hurries, two interceptions, a forced fumble and two blocked kicks. Benardrick McKinney (41 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, two fumble recoveries) is the defensive leader and one of the nation's best linebackers. Richie Brown, Jay Hughes and Will Redmond all have multiple interceptions.
Despite falling flat in a three-point, 217-yard effort at LSU, Kentucky's offense has played very well this season in amassing 31.7 ppg and 415.4 ypg.
Patrick Towles has given the Wildcats a steady presence under center for the first time in several years. He's completing 61 percent of his passes for 1,687 yards with 12 touchdowns (two rushing) and four interceptions.
In a backfield-by-committee, Jojo Kemp (300 yards, four TDs), Braylon Heard (286 yards, three TDs), Stanley Williams (222 yards, two TDs) and Mikel Horton (201 yards, two TDs) all average more than five yards per carry.
Towles doesn't play favorites in the passing game, as Ryan Timmons (31 receptions, 339 yards, two TDs), Demarco Robinson (20 receptions, 306 yards), Garrett Johnson (15 receptions, 240 yards, TDs) and Javess Blue (13 receptions, 236 yards, TDs) are all in the midst of solid campaigns.
Defensively, Kentucky has impressed this season by allowing only 21.9 ppg and 354.9 ypg.
Josh Forrest is the team's leading tackler with 56 stops to go with 5.0 TFL, a sack and an interception. Other defensive standouts include Khalid Henderson (39 tackles, 2.5 TFL, two fumble recoveries), Alvin Dupree (35 tackles, 3.0 sacks, INT), A.J. Stamps (three INTs) and Marcus McWilson (three INTs).