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SEC heats up Thursday

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KENTUCKY WILDCATS (1-5) at MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (3-3)           
 
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Mississippi State -11 & 55.5
Opening Line & Total: Bulldogs -10.5 & 56
 
Mississippi State and Kentucky, two of the SEC’s bottom feeders, each try to secure their first conference win of the season on Thursday night.
 
The Bulldogs have done well this year against schools that they are supposed to beat, with their three wins coming against the likes of Alcorn State, Troy and Bowling Green. But MSU was an 11.5-point home favorite versus Bowling Green in their last contest and eked out a 21-20 victory. On the other hand the Wildcats, 2-10 in 2012, have been overmatched and faced a team ranked in the top-20 each of their last four contests. They have not won an SEC game since Nov. 24, 2011 when they beat Tennessee.

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When these two programs last met in Kentucky during last season, Mississippi State won 27-14, also covering the 10-point spread, and allowed a mere 228 total yards to the Wildcats. Overall, the Bulldogs are 13-8 SU (11-10 ATS) in their matchup against Kentucky since 1992, and have won (SU and ATS) each of the past four games in this series. Mississippi State has done well at home over its past 14 games (11-3 SU) and will look to make easy work against a team that is only 3-6 (SU and ATS) in its past nine at Davis Wade Stadium. Kentucky’s dual-threat QB Jalen Whitlow is doubtful for this game with a sprained ankle, and his replacement will be former starter Maxwell Smith.
 
Kentucky has been near the bottom of a very strong SEC for a while now. Over the past 10 seasons, the Wildcats have not been better than .500 in the conference, and only once were 4-4 (2006). QB Jalen Whitlow has helped the team this year both by not turning the ball over and threatening opposing defenses with his legs (238 rush yards, 3 TD). But Whitlow had to leave their previous game against Alabama with a sprained ankle and is doubtful for Thursday’s game, leaving all of the quarterbacking duties to Maxwell Smith. The sophomore Smith is strictly a pocket passer and has done well so far on the year with 710 yards on 92 attempts while throwing 5 TD to only 1 INT. With the passing game being more of an emphasis with Smith, WR Javess Blue will look to continue his solid season. So far, he has caught 24 passes for 319 yards (13.3 average) and 2 TD on the season.

HBs Jojo Kemp and Raymond Sanders have split time this year and have combined to carry the ball 96 times for 515 yards (5.4 YPC) and two touchdowns, but will miss Whitlow and his ability to pull defenders away from them. With 64 tackles this year, LB Avery Williamson will attempt to lead a defense that has given up 24+ points in 5-of-6 games and has forced a mere seven turnovers in six games this season.
 
After nearly suffering an embarrassing loss against Bowling Green in its last game, Mississippi State will need to step up its play. In that game, the Bulldogs did not score in the second half, and had to hold off the Falcons on a 4th and 11 in the final minutes and secure the win. The running game has been MSU’s forte this year, and attributed 245 of the 422 offensive yards in that game. QB Dak Prescott leads the Bulldogs in both rushing (457 yards, 8 TD) and passing (890 yards, 3 TD), but has been helped in both categories as well. Over the last two games, QB Tyler Russell has thrown the ball 25 times for 248 yards, including 12-for-14 for 102 yards against Bowling Green.

In the run game, HB LaDarius Perkins has been the main weapon besides Prescott, tallying 273 yards on 55 attempts (5.0 YPC) and scoring one touchdown. Seven different players have scored a rushing touchdown for the Bulldogs, with four of those players scoring at least two. When they do go to the air, WR Jameon Lewis has been the top target. Lewis has 393 yards receiving on 23 catches (17.1 avg.) and half (3) of the team's six touchdowns. The defense of the Bulldogs has not exactly excelled in any area, allowing 144 YPG on the ground and 220.5 YPG through the air. In two conference games, they have surrendered 83 points and 1,022 total yards.
 

  
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