By JOEL COLEMAN
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and Kentucky head man Mark Stoops have watched each other’s quarterbacks grow up the last few seasons. Now both signal callers, MSU’s Dak Prescott and Kentucky’s Patrick Towles, are two of the Southeastern Conference’s best.
During Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference, each coach described the progression they’ve seen out of the quarterbacks that will be opposing their respective teams when Mississippi State and Kentucky match up on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium.
“He’s always been a winner and a very good player,” Stoops said of Prescott. “He’s just a guy that’s very, very comfortable back there. He’s been well coached. They have a lot of diversity in their offense. They can do a lot of different things. He can do a lot of different things. He can hurt you with his legs. He’s a big, strong guy and he’s very comfortable distributing the ball and throwing the ball this year. That’s probably the biggest thing in the evolution I’ve seen with him. He’s just comfortable sitting in the pocket throwing the football.”
This season, Prescott has thrown for 1,700 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has run for 254 yards and four scores. Against Kentucky last season, Prescott passed for 216 yards, ran for 88 more and accounted for three total Bulldog touchdowns.
Towles can also lay claim to a solid season and a standout performance from a year ago. He has thrown for 1,512 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015. He has limited yardage on the ground, but has rushed for three scores.
Last year against Mississippi State, Towles put together one of the best performances of his career when he passed for 390 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 76 yards and two more scores.
Mullen remembers that day well and knows Towles won’t be an easy guy to slow down on Saturday.
“I saw him live and in person last year because he lit us up,” Mullen said. “I think he had, what I imagine, is still the best day of his career against us last year. He’s a guy that plays with an awful lot of confidence and swagger out there on the field. He doesn’t just have the talent to make things happen, but he’s also got that emotional leadership and that charge. He’s really a fiery guy that the team rallies around behind him.”
Mullen gives injury update
It appears Prescott may have several of his weapons back at his disposal when the Bulldogs play the Wildcats.
Wide receivers Joe Morrow and Gabe Myles have each missed Mississippi State’s last two games with injury. Tight end Gus Walley was banged up and left last week’s game against Louisiana Tech and didn’t return.
On Monday, Mullen said the status of those three individuals would be determined later in the week. Wednesday, Mullen directly answered any question regarding their availability against Kentucky.
“We expect everybody to play on Saturday,” Mullen said.
Mullen breaks down UK defense
Kentucky’s defense sits around the middle of the pack in the SEC in most statistical categories. That doesn’t mean Mullen is overlooking what the Wildcats bring to the table however.
Mullen assessed Kentucky’s defense and gave an indication of the challenges the Wildcats present to MSU offensively.
“If you watch, they bring a lot of different pressures and play a lot of different coverages,” Mullen said. “When you’re looking at that, they’re going to try and disguise things and bring it from different sides of the field. They’re playing a lot of two (defensive) linemen and four linebackers and five (defensive backs) so you look at that and they have a lot of speed and athleticism coming from different angles at you out there on the field. They’ve done a good job at adding some size and length. They’ve got some big, long corners that can cover and have an opportunity to match up against us. We like to play with bigger receivers and they can match up against those guys.”
Stoops remembers last trip to MSU
The last time Stoops came to Starkville, he was a first-year head coach with the Wildcats in 2013. Kentucky went on to finish that season 2-10 and 0-8 in SEC play, but the Wildcats gave MSU a scare before falling to the Bulldogs 28-22.
Stoops recounted memories of that game on Wednesday and noted how difficult it is for opponents to play inside Davis Wade Stadium.
“I was really impressed (in 2013) and I thought it was a great environment,” Stoops said. “It’s just a tough place to play and I enjoyed playing there. That first year, we were not very good, but actually did a few decent things and had a chance. But it’s another tough SEC environment against a very good team.”