Kentucky, Mississippi State try to rebound from close losses

GARY B. GRAVES (AP Sports Writer)
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Kentucky, Mississippi State try to rebound from close losses

Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill (8) looks for a way past Southern Mississippi linebacker Racheem Boothe (41) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)

Kentucky hopes a change of scenery can reverse its fortunes after losing a close game last week.

That won't be easy at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are looking to rebound from their own late collapse.

Mississippi State (2-1) is riding a four-game home winning streak against Kentucky heading into Saturday's Southeastern Conference opener against the Wildcats (2-1, 0-1 SEC). MSU has dominated Kentucky, winning eight of their last 10 meetings.

There has been no shortage of clanging cowbells in one of college football's most hostile environments.

''I know our kids are energized and galvanized and excited for a great home field advantage that (our fans) are going to provide,'' MSU coach Joe Moorhead said. ''We understand that this one game isn't going to define the season, but we're excited to get back on the field.''

The Bulldogs outgained Kansas State 352-269 and led 24-17 early in the fourth before yielding a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and the game-winning TD with 5:37 remaining. Having shown it can start strong, the priority this week is finishing Kentucky if given the chance.

The Wildcats come in with the same approach.

They appeared headed to a 3-0 start and two-game winning streak against No. 9 Florida with a 21-10 lead late in the third quarter. The Gators rallied with three TDs in the fourth to hand Kentucky a 29-21 loss in its SEC opener.

Kentucky has quickly tried to move past that disappointing loss and looks to start over in Starkville - a quest that starts with blocking out the noise.

''There's going to be great road challenges throughout the year and this is our first opportunity, and we have to embrace that,'' said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, whose team is mastering silent counts to counter the cowbells.

''There's something that's fun in the challenge of going on the road, being united and playing in Starkville. We'll be excited about that opportunity.''

Some other things to watch as Kentucky visits Mississippi State:

SMITH'S GROWTH

Wildcats QB Sawyer Smith completed his first nine passes and seemed headed toward a huge day accounting for all three touchdowns and 267 yards passing against Florida. He also ran down a Florida defender to make a touchdown-saving tackle after an interception, one of three picks in the contest with two leading to 10 points including the go-ahead TD. Kentucky coaches are stressing better poise by Smith but have hinted at giving him more responsibility.

''It's an ongoing process, and we have to make sure we keep it tight,'' quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said of the packages. ''But we also understand that we can expand and do more things with him.''

BULLDOGS PLAYMAKER

MSU running back Kylin Hill leads the SEC in rushing with 431 yards, which also ranks second in FBS. The junior's total includes 15 runs of 10-plus yards, which leads the nation and has helped MSU rank fourth in SEC rushing at 224 yards per game. Hill hasn't lost a fumble in 260 career carries.

SIDELINED

Injuries to tackle Phil Hoskins and safety Taj Dodson, and a first-half suspension for T.J. Carter may leave Kentucky's defense short-handed. Hoskins was expected to debut last week after missing the first two contests because of an academic issue but did not play after hurting his knee during pregame warmups. He is questionable along with Dodson, whose injury wasn't specified. Carter was ejected for targeting and must sit out the first half.

MSU QUARTERBACK QUESTIONS

The depth chart lists graduate transfer Tommy Stevens as the Bulldogs' starting QB, with either freshman Garrett Schrader or junior Keytaon Thompson as his backup. Stevens was lifted in the second half last week with shoulder stiffness and has been evaluated daily. Schrader, who led a 79-yard TD drive in relief of Stevens, is ready just in case and appears to be the choice over Thompson, who's recovering from an upper body injury sustained in camp.

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