SEC football is headed Starkville, Miss., where the Kentucky Wildcats will take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Both teams are looking to get off the schneid in conference play, as Kentucky and Mississippi State own 0-3 and 0-2 records, respectively.
Kentucky is fresh off of four straight games against ranked opponents, including games against then No. 7 Louisville, then No. 13 South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama.
Mississippi State has had a slightly easier go of things, playing in just two games against ranked opponents—then No. 13 Oklahoma State and LSU, which was ranked No. 10 at the time.
As is true with most games featuring evenly matched teams, several players could decide the matchup. Here's a look at three players, on both sides of the ball, who will determine this showdown of SEC foes, starting with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott.
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Prescott is a sturdy 6'2", 230-pound quarterback who possesses the ability to tuck the ball under his arm and run with the best of them. The sophomore currently ranks second in rushing yards and first in rushing touchdowns among SEC quarterbacks, trailing only Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel in yards, via ESPN.com.
The Wildcats allowed Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater, Florida QB Tyler Murphy, and South Carolina QB Connor Shaw, to rush for 35, 36 and 50 yards respectively. One common trend among these three players is that none are as mobile as Prescott.
Prescott's knack for making plays with his feet will prove troublesome for Kentucky, which has allowed a whopping 213.3 yards per game on the ground in 2013.
Prescott also has the ability to make plays with his arm, though, and has tallied 890 yards on back of a 54.3 percent completion rate. Although he has just three touchdowns on the year, Prescott can extend plays and averages 7.7 yards per completion, good for 10th in the SEC—via sports-reference.com
He hooks up frequently with the next member of this list, Jameon Lewis.
Jameon Lewis, WR, KR/PR, Mississippi State
What Lewis lacks in size, he makes up for in big-play ability. The 5'9" junior averages an impressive 17.1 yards per reception this season, placing him eighth on the SEC leader board in the category—via ESPN.com.
Mississippians Donte Moncrief (Raleigh) of UM, and Jameon Lewis (Tylertown) of MState 7th and 8th in SEC rec yds/game pic.twitter.com/mMSyQdBslQ— Matt Wyatt (@MaroonWyatt) October 24, 2013
Beyond that, Lewis also leads the Bulldogs with 23 receptions and three receiving touchdowns.
Lewis creates a huge matchup liability for the Wildcats, who, according to their team site, allow 224 yards per game through the air. Kentucky's defensive backs have a tendency to allow big plays this season, allowing opponents to gain 13.2 yards per reception.
In addition to the matchup problems Lewis creates as a receiver, the Wildcats will also have to worry about him in the return game.
The Mississippi native has returned nine kicks this season for a total of 249 yards. Kentucky allows just 18.8 yards per kick return. This week, though, the coverage team will be tested by Lewis, who averages 27.7 yards per return.
Preston Smith, DL, Mississippi State
Mississippi State's pass rush is anchored by Preston Smith. Smith, a 6'6", 250-pound junior, leads the Bulldogs in sacks and ranks in a tie for first in tackles for loss.
Smith and the Mississippi State D-line have combined for eight sacks this season, as well as 24 quarterback hurries and seven forced fumbles. Kentucky ball carriers have coughed up the rock six times this season, and in four of those times, a change in possession ensued.
Smith has been a nuisance for opposing quarterbacks, and with Kentucky's Maxwell Smith having thrown just one interception all season, the Bulldogs will look to force him into tough situations. By forcing Smith into rushed decisions, Mississippi State's defensive backs, namely Nickoe Whitley, can look to create turnovers of their own.