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No. 20 Bulldogs preparing to face 2 Kentucky QBs

No. 20 Bulldogs preparing to face 2 Kentucky QBs

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky players know what they'll get Saturday from No. 20 Mississippi State - defensive pressure.

The Bulldogs (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) rank in the top 15 in several defensive categories, including first in turnover margin (plus 12). They are physical up front, and senior cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay (seven combined interceptions) lead a veteran secondary.

Mississippi State just doesn't know which Kentucky quarterback it'll be defending.

Freshmen QB Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles will rotate under center for the Wildcats (1-4, 0-2) with starter Maxwell Smith sidelined due to an ankle injury. Towles will make his debut while Whitlow makes his first start, and Kentucky coaches aren't sure how they'll respond to the unusual situation.

``It's going to be exciting,'' Bulldogs senior strong safety Corey Broomfield said. ``The Kentucky coaches will do a good job of protecting them and making the game simple for them, so we've got to make sure we're always in the right place, making the right reads.

``Hopefully, they give us a lot of chances to make plays on the ball.''

Both Kentucky quarterbacks were shielded from the media this week as they studied game film and the playbook just to master the basics of the Wildcats offense. The only certainty is that they will run no-huddle sets to avoid thinking too much while trying to end a three-game losing streak.

``It's really easier for them to operate in the no-huddle because a lot of times the hardest thing for a young guy is getting the play called right in the huddle,'' Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. ``Anything you can eliminate, make it easier for them, that's what you try to do.''

Whitlow has a bit more experience after taking 65 snaps in relief of Smith, who was injured two plays into last week's loss to South Carolina. He led Kentucky to a 17-7 halftime lead before the Gamecocks adjusted to outgain the Wildcats 240-70 and intercept him twice during a 31-point second half.

Towles is considered more of a pocket passer but like Whitlow, he can and will run if necessary. Once headed for a redshirt season after losing a preseason competition to Whitlow, he's now set to alternate plays with him as the Wildcats search for ways to generate offense.

Bloomfield said the Bulldogs aren't fooled by the QB's youth, pointing out both received scholarships for a reason.

``You don't put anything past anybody,'' Bloomfield said. ``You can put the freshman label on people ... Nobody comes into the SEC without playing ball before. It's nothing new to him and it's nothing new to us. So I don't really care what year he is, he's an SEC football player.''

Nothing much has mattered to Mississippi State's defense. The Bulldog's defense is 13th in scoring (13.2 points per game), 18th in pass efficiency (99.6) and 40th overall (350 yards).

Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is still looking for improvement in yardage allowed and increased sacks, but he's enjoying his team's knack for creating turnovers. Slay has four of the Bulldogs' nine interceptions and they've recovered six fumbles.

The offense is averaging nearly 400 yards a game with a fairly balanced attack. Junior quarterback Tyler Russell is averaging about 215 passing yards, just 30 more than Mississippi State is averaging with its ground game - which is anchored by junior LaDarius Perkins (395 yards, five TDs).

Kentucky defensive coordinator rick Minter knows the Bulldogs present a challenge, but he said they Wildcats are not going to sit back on their heels.

``On our side, we're trying to attack,'' Minter said. ``They got a veteran quarterback who's throwing the ball perhaps better than they did this time a year ago. Mix that with the good, solid, tough, hard-nosed approach of the coach and the way they like to play. They'll bring it.''

Playing their first SEC road game after a bye week, Mississippi State seeks its fourth straight victory in the series that Kentucky leads 21-18. The Bulldogs also are looking for their fourth consecutive win at Commonwealth Stadium.

Despite their recent success against the Wildcats, Mississippi State's average margin of victory the past four games is less than a touchdown. The Bulldogs will try to change that by taking advantage of Kentucky's young quarterbacks.

``We're going to come and try to attack from every angle,'' Mississippi State linebacker Cameron Lawrence said. ``That's what we do to every quarterback, but (with) them being freshmen even more so.''

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

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USA TODAY Sports

John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

On Friday, the Capitals shipped out Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to clear space on the salary cap for John Carlson's massive contract extension.

On Sunday night, Carlson signed on the dotted the line. 

The 28-year-old became the latest core Cap to sign a long-term deal, inking an eight-year extension that will carry an $8 million average salary. 

His cap hit is now the second highest on the team—behind Ovechkin’s $9.538 million charge and just ahead of Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million hit.

With Carlson locked up, the defending Stanley Cup champion now has the majority of its core signed through at least the 2019-20 season. Among the players with at least two years remaining on their deals are forwards Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nickas Backstrom and Lars Eller, defensemen Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Carlson news did not come as a surprise.

The Caps wanted to keep him. Carlson, who makes his offseason home in Washington, wanted to stay with the club that drafted him 27th overall in 2008. And on Friday night in Dallas, GM Brian MacLellan all but guaranteed that a deal was going to happen when he said, “We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

It ended up taking a little more than 24 hours, but in the end MacLellan got his D-man.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said MacLellan in a statement on Sunday. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime.”

Indeed, Carlson notched a career-high 15 goals and 53 assists last season, and his 68 points led all NHL defensemen. He also became the eighth defensemen in Caps’ history to record 60 points in a season and the first since Mike Green accomplished the feat in 2009-10. Meanwhile, Carlson’s average ice time (24:47) also marked a career high.

“As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams,” MacLellan added. “We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

With Carlson under contract, the Caps now have a little more than $13 million in cap space underneath the $79.5 million ceiling, according to www.capfiendly.com. Michal Kempny, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek are all unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

Carlson’s also signing kicks off a big week for MacLellan.

In addition to negotiating with the free agents he hopes to retain, he’s expected to have a formal interview with associate coach Todd Reirden, who is the leading candidate to replace Barry Trotz as head coach.

So buckle up, there figure to be a few more important announcements in the coming days.

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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.

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