Kentucky football open practice

Kentucky football open practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

With the UK football team’s first road test looming just days away, they’re looking to move on from their recent loss against the Florida Gators. The Cats will face the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville this Saturday.

Quarterback Sawyer Smith, coming off of his first-ever start as a Wildcat, focused on the importance of having road experience against challenging opponents. Smith faced Nebraska on the road last season with the Troy Trojans and served as a backup when the Trojans faced Clemson in 2016.

"Every away game has a different vibe. I've never heard hundreds of cowbells for 60 minutes, but I'm ready for it. It should be fun," Smith said. “Being in a hotel or plane, you don’t do anything else. You’re with the guys, it’s fun. It’s good team building.” 

Shifting gears defensively, defensive coordinator Brad White harped on the importance of “making stops up front.” Two Bulldogs’ standouts, running back Kylin Hill and quarterback Tommy Stevens, are players that White emphasized slowing down on offense.

“[Kylin] is arguably the best back we’ve seen. Great vision, great patience, and he can go from zero to 60 in a heartbeat. He’s hard to tackle and you have to strike him with a lot of hats,” White said. “With Tommy Stevens, he’s been in this offense and this system with coach [Joe] Moorhead from Penn State. He looks eerily similar to [Nick] Fitzgerald from the past. Everyone knows how dangerous he is.” 

The UK coaching staff played a simulation of the Mississippi State crowd noise during drills. Veteran safety Jordan Griffin understands the challenge of playing in Starkville with loud ringing of cowbells from the fans.

“In this game, Mississippi State has one of the craziest environments. They come with lots of passion and energy. We just have to continue to own in on the little things and play our opponent,” Griffin said. “We’ve [the secondary] made a lot improvement, but still have a way to go.”

Defensive lineman Marquan McCall understands the challenge too.

“You just got to be confident and, you know, it’s a road game. They’re going to try to get us offsides, so we got to focus and maintain,” McCall said. “They [Kylin and Tommy] have been having good games. We have to show them that they can’t do what they do all game.” 

The Cats have not won in Starkville since 2008 as the all-time series is tied at 23 wins apiece. MSU gave the Cats a heavy 45-7 loss when the two last met in Starkville back in 2017.