Hmmm... What tricks will Joker have up his sleeve when the Bulldogs arrive in Lexington? Can the Wildcats get enough from their offense to win? Can the defense stifle the Bulldogs? Does he know how to do the "John Wall?"
When you think about the Mississippi State - Kentucky rivalry (Kentucky is MSU's permanent SEC East opponent) you think of the battles shared on the hardwood. I think of the 2009-10 season when theled Wildcats barely edged out victories in the two games they played against the Dee Bost led Bulldogs. MSU gave Kentucky all they wanted in each of those games (not many people challenged Kentucky in the regular season that year).
I say all that to say this - most people don't initially think of Commonwealth Stadium when thinking about the MSU-UK rivalry. You never know what you might find when you enter Commonwealth Stadium. It once housed a 300 lb quarterback and now its home to a Joker.
For every offensive playmaker Kentucky returns, they lose a defensive playmaker from the 2011 team. They return key defensive lineman, but lose both tackles along the offensive line from last year's team.
Key Returning Players:
Overall 2011 Analysis:
The Wildcats finished 5-7(2-6) for 2011. They were able pull off SEC wins against TSUN (Ole Miss) and Rocky Top (Tennessee). They were defeated by non-conference, in-state rival, Louisville. They scored late to edge past Western Kentucky. They weren't really competitive in the SEC games they played (outside of their SEC wins, of course). They struggled to find stability at the quarterback position and when they did, the play of Maxwell Smith left much to be desired. They relied on young, small-ish running backs and have very few experienced play makers. There was talent along the defensive line and experience along the offensive line. The linebacking core and defensive backfield was carried by previously mentioned Trevathan and Guy. The Wildcats will return a few players, but again will need young players to step up in 2012 to avoid another disappointing season. If 2012 is a continuation of 2011, Joker Phillips could be on the hot seat.
2012 MSU vs. Kentucky Positional Battles:
Quarterback - Advantage: MSU
Maxwell Smith was thrown into the fire last year when Morgan Newton did not live up to the billing. He showed glimpses, but has much room to improve. At this point, Tyler Russell has more talent and more comfort in his system and is simply a better QB.
Tailback - Advantage: MSU
Same story, different players here. Kentucky threw CoSHik Williams may have more experience being a featured back than LaDarius Perkins, but Perkins fits his system better and simply has more talent. Kentucky will use up to 4 backs, but the combination of Perkins and Nick Griffin should prove more formidable.
Offensive Line - Advantage: MSU
Kentucky will return their center and right guard, but the loss of both tackles could prove daunting for Joker Phillips and company. Gabe Jackson, Tobias Smith, Dillon Day, and Blaine Clausell should prove to be the better group here. The depth at this position also favors the Bulldogs.
Defensive Line - Advantage: Draw
Kentucky returns all four starting defensive linemen, including two talented DTs in Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. Mississippi State will return Josh Boyd to go along with newcomers Nick James, Quay Evans, and Denico Autry. Mississippi State has the better youth at this position, but Kentucky has two proven run-stoppers. It will be interesting to watch the improvement at this position for MSU as the 2012 season progresses.
Linebacker- Advantage: MSU
Kentucky loses two starters here and one is Danny Trevathan, who I might have mentioned a few times previous in this post. MSU returns their leader of the linebacking core, Cameron Lawrence. Each team has a loss at this position, but the key is UK loses their x-factor for this position and the Bulldogs don't.
Defensive Backfield- Advantage: MSU
All you need to know here is that Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks return for MSU. State will have shutdown corners and hard-hitting safeties in 2012 and will have one of the best defensive backfields in the conference. It doesn't help Kentucky's cause that they lost Winston Guy (who has also been mentioned a few times in this post).
2012 Overall Analysis:
The key in this game for me is that I've mentioned Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan more than any returning UK player in this post. Those guys leaving will leave that defensive back seven in a world of trouble. MSU's spread should take the talented UK defensive line out of the equation and open the field for LaDarius Perkins to have a big day. I think Kentucky's offensive production in 2012 depends on the improvement of Maxwell Smith. The running game could have some success through middle of the field, with the experience of the interior lineman for UK. With two new tackles, the pass protection could suffer, however. Expect a big day for Cameron Lawrence in this one. Right now, this one looks to be wrapped in maroon and white, but injuries can change anything. Anything is subject to change. Like it has been in seasons past, this one could be a good SEC battle.