October 13, 2012 2:16:00 PM
STARKVILLE - The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog has been waiting, waiting and waiting all day to say we're LOOKING LIVE.....at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville or a Southeastern Conference matchup as the Bulldogs host the University of Tennessee in a huge contest for both teams.
Here's what we're going to do for our pre-game blog: The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is going to review all the material we've assembled for you this week in our print edition.
NOTE: Be sure to bookmark this page as we'll continue to update this post throughout the day until kickoff as news continues to flow out about pre-game news for either team tonight.
MONDAY - MSU football notebook - MSU head coach Dan Mullen cautions everybody it's too early for junior quarterback Tyler Russell to get national attention: http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=19476
MSU football feature - Mississippi State University linebacker Benardrick McKinney helping lead the No. 19 Bulldogs defense after a performance that included a career-high 12 tackles, including 10 solo stops against the the University of Kentucky, while also tallying a tackle for loss and two pass deflections
TUESDAY - MSU football feature - We look into MSU's offense being more balanced than any other season under Dan Mullen
MSU football notebook - University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley will coach Saturday from the Davis Wade Stadium press box after undergoing surgery on his fractured right hip injury Tuesday afternoon.
WEDNESDAY -MSU football notebook - Former Mississippi State University tailback Vick Ballard will get his first start in the National Football League Sunday.
Thursday - MSU football feature - MSU secondary to have hands full with Tennessee offense.
1. Who will win the battle of the Tennessee wide receivers and
Mississippi State defensive backs?
The common thought about the upcoming matchup Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN2) between the University of Tennessee wide receivers and the Mississippi State University secondary is all of the key players
involved will be drafted and be playing in the National Football League on Sundays very soon.
Senior cornerback Jonathan Banks was a preseason All-America selection by six different publications, and along with senior Darius Slay has led the Bulldogs to the 11th-best scoring defense in the country,
while holding opponents to under 200 yards passing per game.
"These guys are NFL guys," University of Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said about the MSU cornerback starters of Banks and Slay.
"There are not that many big-time corners out there who have the size, the athleticism and the instincts and these guys have it. Tennessee (3-2, 0-2) will travel to Starkville with the Southeastern Conference's best passing offense while averaging 329.2 yards per game and a junior quarterback in Tyler Bray, which many prognosticators have being taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
"They'll probably be the best (because) they got a really good quarterback in Tyler Bray," Banks said Monday. "I got a lot of respect to play. He gets those guys in position to make plays. It's exactly
what Tyler Russell is doing and I think they're the same guy. (Bray) might be playing a little longer than Tyler. It's football and it's what we're here to do."
Brey's favorite targets down the field in the Volunteers pro-style vertical passing game are junior receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Bray is second in the SEC in passing with 1,582 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Hunter (33 catches, 456 yards, four touchdowns) and Patterson (21 catches, 290 yards and two touchdowns) are third and 12th in the league in receiving yards.
"Tennessee has some excellent receivers and I'm mean some of the best I've ever seen in college football," MSU cornerbacks Melvin Smith said. "You order receivers out of a magazine, that's what you get."
2. Will Tennessee head football coach Derek Dooley being forced into the coach's box be a factor?
University of Tennessee head football coach Derek Dooley will coach Saturday from the Davis Wade Stadium press box after undergoing surgery on his fractured right hip injury Tuesday afternoon. Tennessee officials announced Tuesday Dooley had experienced increasing pain in his right hip over the last two months and the Volunteers coach, who is 14-16 in his third season with the school, underwent an MRI on Friday that showed he had a fracture in the area.
The procedure was performed by Dr. Russell Betcher and Dr. Greg Mathien of the Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic at UT Medical Center Tuesday afternoon. The recovery from the surgery will force Dooley to the coaches' booth in the press box Saturday due to obvious limitations in mobility. It is unknown at this time how Tennessee will make any changes to the staff plans to accommodate Dooley not being on the sidelines. Saturday will mark the first time Dooley will be in the sidelines as a head coach at Tennessee.
3. Can MSU find holes in the Tennessee defense for big plays?
What MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell saw this week when he looked at Tennessee's defense on film is exactly what the Volunteers have spent the bye week trying to fix - big plays.
Tennessee 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."
4. Can MSU finally put away a team if they acquire an early lead?
Throughout the first 5-0 start to a season in 14 years, MSU has outscored its opponents 171-67 and more impressively 105-23 in the first halves of games. However, the Bulldogs are seeing a drop off in
production after the halftime break to just a 65-44 advantage.
"That's what you have to defend against and you have to be ready for that," MSU coach Dan Mullen said Sunday. "If we are behind we have to be ready to come back and when we are ahead we just have to be able to put people away."
5. Can MSU get pressure on Tyler Bray against one of the better
offensive lines in the SEC?
In a 27-14 victory at the University of Kentucky last weekend, MSU was get pressure with just three down lineman and didn't use many blitz packages to get the three sacks throughout the
"I'm never satisfied but I was happier, I'll say that," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said with a laugh. "I felt like I guess we were long overdue in that department."
The drought in the sacks department is one thing that has bothered MSU's defense throughout their first five wins as they rank next to last in the SEC in that statistical category. MSU has just eight sacks
through five games and will face Tennessee's offensive system Saturday that has allowed just a league-best three sacks this season.
"The challenge is this is a team that leads the league in least number of sacks given up," Mullen said. "It's certainly a challenge for us to get pressure on them this week, but when you get pressure with your down guys, that's a real positive.
Players to Watch
Junior quarterback Tyler Russell
Russell is one of seven Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks this season with more than 10 passing touchdowns and less than two interceptions. The only quarterbacks in the country with more
touchdowns than Russell on that list is University of West Virginia's Geno Smith, Louisiana Tech University's Colby Cameron, University of Alabama's A.J. McCarron and University of Texas' David Ash. Russell is on pace to break the school single-season record in completions, attempts, passing yardage, and touchdowns. He is also one of just three Southeastern Conference quarterbacks to throw for three touchdowns in a league game this season.
Senior defensive back Johnthan Banks
Banks, a East Webster High School product, has been thrown at 24 times in man coverage, allowing just 15 catches for 108 yards (4.5 yards per game) and zero touchdowns, as well as intercepting three passes and breaking up two. Among active Football Bowl Subdivision players, Banks currently ranks first in career interception yards (274), second with 15 career interceptions, is tied for third with three interceptions returned for touchdowns along with ranking fifth in career interceptions per game (0.36).
Junior wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson
One of the reasons Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray is second in the SEC in passing with 1,582 yards and 14 touchdowns, is his comfortable feeling with his two primary targets. Hunter (33 catches, 456 yards, four touchdowns) and Patterson (21 catches, 290 yards and two touchdowns) are third and 12th in the league in receiving yards.
"When you look at Tennessee the first thing that jumps out to you is the explosiveness of their offense," Mullen said. "They have NFL-type players at every position. They can put up a lot of points
Tennessee junior defensive tackle Daniel McCullers
Nicknamed 'Mount McCullers', the 380-pound nose tackle transferred to Tennessee from Georgia Military College, a junior college in Milledgeville, Ga. McCullers, had three tackles and tackle for a loss in a home defeat against the University of Florida earlier this season. McCullers is a major focus of attention in their new 3-4 defense as he requires two blockers on every play.
The last time MSU defeated Tennessee (24-21 in Starkville) as the Volunteers have won six games in a row and nine of the last 10 games dating back to 1987.
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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