October 9, 2012 9:15:41 PM
STARKVILLE - The first thing Mississippi State University junior quarterback Tyler Russell sees when he looks at Tennessee's defense on film is exactly what the Volunteers have spent the bye week trying to fix - big plays.
Tennessee (3-2, 0-2 in Southeastern Conference) ranks tied for last in the SEC in allowing plays of 30 yards or more this season (15).
"Tennessee is going to put up some points and we know we're going to have to score," Russell said Tuesday. "One thing we're focusing on in practice this week is every drive is important. If we have one three-and-out then that might cost us the game."
Explosive highlight-reel plays have not been part of MSU's reputation in 2012 as the Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 in SEC) are one of only five teams in the league that has less than 10 plays of 30 yards or more this season. The inability to move the football consistently last weekend in the second half of its 27-14 victory at the University of Kentucky does concern Mullen and the offensive coaching staff.
"Well, last week we'd like to have had some more points on the board," Mullen said Monday. "I saw two other possessions I really think we should have had touchdowns. I think (MSU senior receiver Chad) Bumphis dropped a big pass down the middle of the field that would have been a big play. So there is some big-play potential for us."
In the passing game, MSU has only five plays this season go for 30 yards or more after being near the bottom of the league in that statistical category each of the last three seasons.
"As you always see, you're not going to have a lots of opportunities of big plays. And you'd better capitalize," Mullen said. "If you don't, you're going to be embattled. It's hard to score in this league so when you have those opportunities to make big plays, you have to take advantage of those."
Tennessee, under first-year defensive coordinator coordinator Sal Sunseri, has worked the last two weeks to make sure big plays are taken out of the equation. The Volunteers have allowed nine scoring plays over 20 yards in SEC losses to Florida and Georgia before their bye week.
"Most of those plays generally start with a little bit of an alignment error, then it is not playing the blocks very well from a toughness standpoint and then the ball breaks and not being able to get the guy down in space," Dooley said Monday. "We certainly don't have a defense that is a three-and-out, stone you all the time, and we didn't really expect that right away."
In the Volunteers 51-44 loss to Georgia, they allowed over 50 points for the first time since win at Kentucky in 2007 and that contest ended with four overtime periods.
The one trend that Mullen said Monday couldn't be counted on Saturday was MSU being hypnotized by trying to hit big plays on every snap.
"Defensively the challenge is the two teams that have beaten them have relied on the big play," Mullen said. "t's hard consistently to rely on the big play. I mean they've beaten with a bunch of 70- and 80-yard touchdowns, big plays that just break you and we anticipate they've had time to get that fixed."
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.
3. Ho ho ho -- Downtown Open House heralds the holidays ENTERTAINMENT