The off week is, mercifully, over. Game week is here, for the fifth time as Mississippi State hits the practice field today in preparation to travel to Lexington and face the Wildcats of Kentucky this Saturday.
Of course, the break was not a bad thing for the Bulldogs. If you include the four weeks of preseason practices, it came at the mid-point of the season and at a time when MSU had a few players banged up or sore.
And did you see the rest of the top 25 and SEC this weekend? You’d have to think it’s for the best State was able to avoid such a strange weekend.
Speaking of the polls, MSU remains at No. 19 in the USA Today/Coaches poll, while it moved up a spot to 20 in the AP Top 25 following a weekend of sitting at home. Not bad work, if you can get it.
As Mullen said last week, he and the coaches used the down time to give some starters rest and also get the team focused after some mental letdowns against South Alabama and Troy.
Now, the attention turns to Kentucky. The Wildcats hosted No. 6-ranked South Carolina on Saturday, and while the Gamecocks won 38-17, UK gave Steve Spurrier and the gang all they could handle. The Wildcats actually led USC 17-7 at halftime, and the Gamecocks were only up by four entering the fourth quarter.
While it was a scare for USC, it was probably good for MSU’s players to see as they prepare for their first road game, according to the head coach.
“It’s what we expect,” Mullen said Sunday. “You watched them last night against a top six team, we’re going to have our hands full. South Carolina had their hands full, if [Kentucky] could have scored right before the half, it could have been a different game.”
What may make UK even harder is the difficulty in scouting them. Starting quarterback Maxwell Smith went down on the first drive of the game for the Wildcats and was replaced by athletic freshman Jalen Whitlow, who went on to complete 12 of 23 passes for 114 yards and two interceptions, in addition to an 8-yard touchdown run.
Smith’s health and status for Saturday is currently unknown, this after he was hurt against Florida, too.
Smith has experience, but Mullen conceded Whitlow, despite being a freshman, has talent, as well.
“He looked really athletic,” Mullen said. “It will be interesting to know whether he is going to be the guy. It looks like he might be the third quarterback in three weeks.”
If it’s Smith?
“If the Maxwell kid plays, he throws it all over the place,” Mullen said. “The backups run it all over the place.”
Either way, Mullen said, the Wildcats get the ball in a lot of different hands.
After facing spread offenses like Troy and South Alabama recently, he hopes his team will be ready for it.
“Kentucky is another spread team that is going to try to spread you out with the zone-read and option football,” Mullen said. “So our guys have to be sound and play hard on the defensive side.”
We’ll have more from Mullen later today after his weekly Monday press conference at 1 p.m., and hopefully we’ll catch up with a few assistant coaches, maybe even a player or two if they don’t have class.