Mississippi State's 3 Keys to Victory vs. Kentucky

Brad LockeContributor IOctober 31, 2009

STARKVILLE, MS - OCTOBER 24:  Johnthan Banks # 13 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs returns a 2nd half interception for a touchdown against the Florida Gators, at Davis Wade Stadium on  October 24, 2009 in Starkville, Mississippi  (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)
Rick Dole/Getty Images

Mississippi State (3-5, 1-3 SEC) visits Kentucky (4-3, 1-3) for a 7 p.m. (EST) kickoff.

1. Get Dixon back on track

After five consecutive 100-yard games, MSU senior tailback Anthony Dixon was held to 53 yards on 15 carries by a stout Florida defense. He said some of that was him not quite trusting his blockers like he should, and line coach John Hevesy blamed some missed assignments.

The Bulldogs need to get on the same page this week. Kentucky ranks last in the SEC in rushing defense, giving up 174.1 yards per game. Dixon had three catches for 21 yards last week. The coaches are hoping to get him more involved in that aspect.

2. No big returns

Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke each have returned a kick to the house, and they rank third and fifth, respectively, in the SEC in all-purpose yards. Cobb is second in the SEC with 13.6 yards per punt return.

MSU has been strong against returns, allowing an average of 3.2 yards per punt return and 19.4 yards per kick return. For Kentucky, which could struggle offensively due to its quarterback situation, a big special teams play to swing the game in its favor.

3. Keep the picks coming

The Bulldogs are tied for the SEC lead with 11 interceptions, and four of those have been returned for touchdowns. Freshman free safety Johnthan Banks (pictured above) had two pick-sixes last week off Florida’s Tim Tebow.

Kentucky doesn’t have a Tebow; it doesn’t even have a Mike Hartline, its starter. He’s out with a knee injury, and the platoon of junior Will Fidler and true freshman Cameron Newton hasn’t been particularly effective.

MSU has gotten better QB pressure lately, a big reason for all the picks, and rattling those inexperienced signal-callers could give the secondary another big day.