By JOEL COLEMAN
It’s not the Egg Bowl, but Mississippi State and Kentucky have developed a bit of a rivalry in recent seasons.
As MSU’s permanent Southeastern Conference Eastern Division opponent, the Wildcats have played the Bulldogs every year since 1990. As the two schools prepare to meet again on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said Monday during his weekly press conference that each school’s familiarity with one another has amped up the intensity of the matchup.
“I think anytime that you have your crossover games, a team that you are going to play as your locked-in crossover, there becomes a little bit of a rivalry with that,” Mullen said. “That’s the team from the East that we are going to play every single year, so you know each other and I think that it brings a little different edge.”
In his tenure at MSU, Mullen is a perfect 6-0 against Kentucky. However, the Wildcats seemingly always keep things interesting. In the last six meetings, three have been decided by seven or fewer points. None have been decided by more than 14.
“If you watch the games over all six games, they are pretty close, exciting games,” Mullen said. “It has come down to the wire every single year. I think that speaks to the nature of how both teams view the rivalry.”
Mullen talks Towles
As Mississippi State prepares to face Kentucky, the threat posed by Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles looms large.
Last year, Towles put up huge numbers against MSU, passing for 390 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 76 yards and two more scores. Mullen knows that Towles is capable of having such a performance again and recalled just how well the junior signal caller played last year.
“He’s a quarterback that’s going to step up in big games and they know this is a big game,” Mullen said. “He tried to put the team on his shoulders last year running and throwing and had a huge game at their place.
“He made some huge throws and was really accurate with the ball, got it out of his hands and scrambled around and made things happen and ran physically. I don’t know if there’s something different we would’ve done. You have a guy that’s on fire at the quarterback position, it’s tough to stop. He just played an outstanding game.”
To counteract Towles, Mullen said the most important factor might not even be the performance of the MSU defense. Instead, Mullen pointed to those in the stands as the individuals that can really begin to get inside an opponent’s mind.
“The best way to disrupt any quarterback is have home field advantage,” Mullen said. “(It’s important) to have our student body and fans on their feet making a lot of noise and making it uncomfortable for the visiting quarterback to communicate at the line of scrimmage and just be in that hostile environment.”
Harris out for season
For the second time this month, Mississippi State has lost a player to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Mullen said on Monday that linebacker Dez Harris suffered the injury in Saturday’s 45-20 win over Louisiana Tech and the sophomore would be out for the remainder of the season.
Senior safety Kendrick Market also tore an ACL in Mississippi State’s loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 3.
This marks the third time that Harris has torn an ACL. He first suffered the injury in a preseason jamboree contest prior to his senior year at McAdory High School in McCalla, Ala.
Last season with MSU, he again tore his ACL in Mississippi State’s win over Auburn.
While Harris is done for the year, several other banged up Bulldogs look to be in position to return to the field on Saturday.
Safety Jamal Peters, who missed last week’s game and practice leading up to it with an undisclosed injury, has worked out the last few days and is on track to play against the Wildcats.
Receiver Fred Ross should also be available after suffering an injury against Louisiana Tech.
Running back Ashton Shumpert didn’t play versus LA Tech due to back stiffness, but is expected to return Saturday.
Tight end Gus Walley, who left last week’s game after being hit hard on an attempted reception in the end zone, along with receivers Joe Morrow and Gabe Myles, who were each injured earlier this month, will all be evaluated later in the week. According to Mullen, the trainers are optimistic for their availability against Kentucky.