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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 13). 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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American League All-Star Game Roster Projection: AL will be loaded once again

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American League All-Star Game Roster Projection: AL will be loaded once again

The 2018 Major League All-Star Game is less than a month away. Fan votes are well underway and early frontrunners are close to locking their position in the Midsummer Classic.

Yesterday, we projected how the National League roster will play out. Today it is time to look at the American League roster projection.

For five straight seasons, the AL has had the upper hand in the MLB All-Star Game. In 2018, it does not appear that will change as the American League roster will be loaded from top to bottom.

As a reminder, here is how the process shakes out, first with the fan vote, players’ ballots, and the MLB Commissioner’s Office:

  • Fan vote: nine position players in AL (DH)/ eight in NL; plus final vote for each league
  • Player’s ballots: next 17 players in AL/ 16 players in NL; (five starting pitchers, three relievers must be chosen)
  • MLB Commissioner’s Office: five AL players (four pitchers, one position player) and seven NL players (four pitchers, three position players)

One player from each team must make the initial roster (before injury withdraws, etc.). Below is how it looks the American League roster will play out, considering the latest fan vote returns:

American League All-Star Roster Projection:

C – Wilson Ramos, Rays (Fan Vote), Gary Sánchez, Yankees (Player Ballot)
1B – José Abreu, White Sox (Fan Vote), Joey Gallo, Rangers (Player Ballot)
2B – Jose Altuve, Astros (Fan Vote), Jed Lowrie, Athletics (Player Ballot)
3B – José Ramírez, Indians (Fan Vote), Yangervis Solarte, Blue Jays (Player Ballot), Mike Moustakas, Royals (Commissioner’s Office)
SS – Manny Machado, Orioles (Fan Vote), Jean Segura, Mariners (Player Ballot),
OF – Mookie Betts, Red Sox (Fan Vote), Mike Trout, Angels (Fan Vote), Aaron Judge, Yankees (Fan Vote), Michael Brantley, Indians (Player Ballot), Eddie Rosario, Twins (Player Ballot), Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees (Player Ballot),
DH – J.D. Martinez, Red Sox (Fan Vote), Shohei Ohtani, Angels (Player Ballot)

SP – Justin Verlander, Astros (Player Ballot), Luis Severino, Yankees (Player Ballot), Corey Kluber, Indians (Player Ballot), Chris Sale, Red Sox (Player Ballot), Gerrit Cole, Astros (Player Ballot), Blake Snell, Tampa Bay (Commissioner’s Office)

RP – Edwin Díaz, Mariners (Player Ballot), Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox (Player Ballot), Aroldis Chapman, Yankees (Player Ballot), Joe Jiménez, Tigers (Commissioner’s Office), Delin Betances, Yankees (Commissioner’s Office), Chris Devenski, Astros (Commissioner’s Office)

Manager: Jeff Luhnow, Astros

Based on this projection, the New York Yankees will have the most representatives with six. The Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox will both have four.

Ensuring no snubs, there will be five players selected for the final fan vote to get one more All-Star into the game for a total of 32 for the American League. As you can see, no matter how the AL roster plays out, it will be a dominant team once again as they look for six straight All-Star wins.

Four of those five wins were inside a National League stadium and that will not change as the Washington Nationals will host this season.

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Capitals don't get Penguins for home opener, but Penguins will host Capitals in theirs

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals don't get Penguins for home opener, but Penguins will host Capitals in theirs

The Capitals found out who their opponent will be for the home opener on Oct. 3 and it's not the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And you know what? That's OK. Winning the Stanley Cup was awesome and the banner raising will be an incredible scene regardless. 

Plus, the Penguins need that night off because they have to get ready for their own home opener on Oct. 4 against...the Caps?

Wait, what?

In 2016, the Capitals were in attendance as the Penguins raised their Stanley Cup banner. That had to sting considering Pittsburgh eliminated Washington in the playoffs.

It has not become a tradition to make rivals watch as teams raise banners and there's nothing that said the NHL had to schedule the Penguins for Washington's home opener. But it does seem odd that the NHL is going to make the defending Stanley Cup champions play a back-to-back right out of the gate with the second end coming against their archrivals in Pittsburgh.

Hey Caps, it's the NHL here. Congrats again. Vegas is a hell of a city, am I right? So, listen...we thought about it and decided you won't get to raise your banner against your rivals. Sorry about that. We tried and we couldn't get them for your first game. Good news though, we moved it all the way up to the second game, we just couldn't get it any sooner than that. You'll be playing them the second game of the season...the night after your home opener...in Pittsburgh...for their home opener. Anyway, good luck on the repeat.

Makes sense.

Look, if Washington can't have Pittsburgh for the home opener fine. It would have been nice, but it's really not a big deal. Raising the banner will be special regardless of who the opponent will be. But don't turn around and make the Caps play in the Penguins' home opener the very next day.

The schedule makers did the Caps no favors with this one.

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