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Mississippi St ready for challenge after break

Associated Press Modified: October 2, 2012 at 6:17 pm •  Published: October 2, 2012

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said his team enjoyed a week away from football and got some much needed rest.

The Bulldogs weren't too tired, though. Most of September had already been a vacation.

No. 19 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) has had an extended break from league play since beating Auburn on Sept. 8. The Bulldogs have won two nonconference games and taken their off week in the interim, but are eager to get back to league play against Kentucky (1-4, 0-2) on Saturday

"You don't want to call the first four games the preseason, but it is different," Mullen said. "It's so much conference-oriented now. When you come into the season, your goals are to get a shot at playing in your conference championship and these are the games that really matter."

Mississippi State has room for improvement, even though it's undefeated through September for the first time since 1999.

The Bulldogs looked lethargic in victories over Troy and South Alabama, even needing a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Trojans. But they still pushed through the stretch unscathed, managed to stay healthy, and are now focused on competing for the Western Division title.

"We came into the season knowing these first four games we should win," Mississippi State running back LaDarius Perkins said. "We have to keep improving as the season goes on. We just can't get complacent, keep working hard and grind every day."

It remains to be seen whether Kentucky can provide Mississippi State with a challenge.

The Wildcats are without quarterback Maxwell Smith indefinitely after the sophomore suffered an ankle injury against South Carolina. Kentucky coach Joker Phillips says he'll rotate freshmen Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles against the Bulldogs.

Whitlow completed 12 of 23 passes for 114 yards, ran for a touchdown and threw two interceptions after coming in for Smith in the Wildcats' 38-17 loss to South Carolina. Towles hasn't played yet this season.

The Whitlow/Towles combination appears a huge mismatch against Mississippi State's veteran secondary. Senior cornerback Johnthan Banks has 15 career interceptions, including three this season. The Bulldogs' other cornerback — Darius Slay — has four interceptions.

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