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Pre-game Monday: All eyes focused on Tennessee's high octane offense




Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE - Mississippi State University head coach Dan Mullen set up this confrontation Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium against the University of Tennessee (8 p.m. ESPN2) in his opening paragraph comment  


"When you look at Tennessee the first thing that jumps out to you is the explosiveness of their offense," Mullen said Monday in his weekly media conference. "They have NFL-type players at every position. Their receivers, their quarterback, talented running backs, and an experienced offensive line. They can put up a lot of points and they have put up a lot of points a bunch of points. I think they played Florida and Georgia in the SEC so far and put up a bunch of points on both teams, so they obviously can score a lot." 


It is the highly explosive offense Tennessee (3-2, 0-2 in Southeastern Conference) will bring to Starkville Saturday night that has the MSU defensive coaches concerned. The Volunteers led the SEC in passing (329.2 yards per game) and tied for the conference lead in touchdown passes with 14. Tennessee junior quarterback Tyler Bray, who is being projected as a first round draft pick in the National Football League, averages 8.2 yards per completion and leads an offense that has put up 2,533 total yards - which is the most by any Tennessee offense through five games in school history.  


"They'll probably be the best (offense because) they got a really good quarterback in Tyler Bray," MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks said Monday. "I got a lot of respect to play. He gets those guys in position to make plays. He's got a big arm and not afraid to throw it around." 


With Mullen talking about the concerns of how No. 19 MSU (5-0, 2-0) has being less than dominant in second halves when they have a large lead, it should be noted Bray is currently just 40-for-75 with four touchdowns and three interceptions when Tennessee is down in a game.  


"I think they're the two best receivers we've played so far this year," Mullen said. "On top of that the best quarterback we've played so far this year. So that combination is certainly going to be a challenge for our secondary. And it should be fun. Those are the guys that we depend on as the strength of our team with the leadership and experience we have on the back end. And they're going to have to step up and play big." 


The highlighted matchup would obviously be Tennessee's wide receiver duo of juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson (third and 12th in the league individually in receiving yards per game) against Banks and senior cornerback Darius Slay (combine for seven interceptions this season).  


"Slay can hold his own (and) I'll hold my own so we ain't going to switch off on anybody because we're good enough to handle anybody in the country," Banks said. "The game plan will be the same - to go out and play physical, Mississippi State football. We need to create turnovers and get off the field on third down." 


What's the plan to stopping Tennessee's passing attack that already has 42 plays through the air of 15 yards or more? Let MSU cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith explain it to you but taking the media Monday back to the farm he grew up on Taylorville, Miss.  


""I worked with Gary Darnell at Texas A&M and he came in to repair our 


defense," Melvin said. "When he was at Notre Dame, he said a lady came up to him and asked 'Are you in charge of the defense?' and he said 'yes I am'. She said 'we'll I don't know anything about defense but it doesn't look like your players line up in the right place' and from that moment he made sure his players were in the right place. To me, it's about position. I grew up on a farm and we only had X amount of acres. When 


our cows and hogs got out on somebody else's land, they were out of position because we had a fence. You play defense by building a fence. What I want to see is us in position - that's so important to me. Leverage horizontal and vertical is so important. It's not about who you play, it's about positioning yourself so that you can do your job.That's will be my emphasis this week and all the time so I know we're in good position. That's what we need in our secondary. Every defensive call means we have a designated position to be in then you let talent what talent is supposed to do." 




- After posting a career day and helping lead MSU to a 27-14 victory against the University of Kentucky Wildcats Saturday, linebacker Benardrick McKinney was named Co-Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week, the league announced Monday. 


I'll have a feature on McKinney in Tuesday's edition of The Dispatch to discuss the importance of his role at middle linebacker in MSU's defensive system. 


McKinney posted a career-high 12 tackles, including 10 solo stops against the Wildcats, while also tallying a tackle for loss and two pass deflections. He helped lead a Bulldog defense that held Kentucky to 20-yards-or-less on nine of their 12 possessions, while also forcing five three-and-outs. The Tunica, Miss., native leads all SEC freshmen in tackles per game (7.2). 




- After he began his media conference, Mullen gave the media the injury report for the upcoming game at University of Tennessee. 




Freshman CB Cedric Jiles is out (broken hand) 




Senior DT Devin Jones is probable (sprained shoulder) 




Senior OG Tobias Smith (knee) was not mentioned after saying he was questionable for Kentucky game this past week. 




Freshman DB Xavier Grindle is out for the rest of the season (torn ACL) 




Sophomore TE Malcolm Johnson (pectoral) is now probable after not being active last week at Kentucky. 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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