Preview: Tennessee at Mississippi State

Mark Zerof-US PRESSWIRE

Mississippi State faces its first real test this Saturday when they welcome the Tennessee Volunteers into Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville. The 5-0 Bulldogs have had a soft start to their schedule but are entering a part of their schedule where stiff SEC competition will be a weekly trend.

With the signature wins thus far coming against Auburn and Kentucky, many remain skeptical about the prowess of this year’s Bulldog team. The two perspectives on this Mississippi State team are of two extremes.

This is either a team that has feasted on inferior opponents early in the season and will succumb to the heavyweights in the conference, or this is a team that has bought into Dan Mullen’s system and finally has the pieces in place to compete with Alabama and LSU.

I do not think you can penalize Mississippi State for wins against their first five opponents. If they lost to the likes of   Troy, Jackson State, or Southern Alabama, certainly that would have been a damming loss. However, they did exactly  what they were supposed to do and left victorious.

Tennessee and Mississippi State have not played since the 2008 season and have a six-game winning streak against the Bulldogs, but a lot has changed in Starkville since the two teams last played. Mississippi State is no longer a pushover for the Volunteers to take lightly.

Mullen is in his fourth year at the helm and has a quarterback in Tyler Russell that can run Mullen’s spread offense better than Chris Relf who had started for the last two years. He has the SEC’s leader in receiving touchdowns, Chad Bumphis, and running back LaDarius Perkins is one of the more underrated backs in the conference, despite ranking second in yards per game.

Mark Zerof-US PRESSWIRE

However, the real stars of this team are on defense where the Bulldogs are allowing 13.4 points per game and forcing three turnovers per game-which ranks fourth in the nation.

The ball hawking secondary led by All-American cornerback Johnthan Banks has three interceptions and Darius
Slay
leads the team with four has made it difficult for opposing team’s quarterbacks, but has yet to see one quite like Tennessee’s Tyler Bray.

Bray leads the SEC in attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns while guiding a team that averages 39.4 points per game. Tennessee was off last week after their loss to Georgia where they surrendered 51 points, and they hope the week off served them well, because Mississippi State has scored more than 25 points in the first five games for the first time in school’s long history.

Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, who is recovering from hip surgery this week, (coincidentally the doctor who performed the surgery is a Mississippi State graduate), desperately needs a signature win or two to save his job.

Tennessee has lost 13 straight times to ranked opponents and 19 of the last 20 and a win over the #18 Bulldogs will quiet the masses, albeit for one week, who are ready for a new coach in Knoxville.

That is why Saturday is very much a must win game for Tennessee.  Mississippi State must win this game to get the confidence they can compete with the major programs on the schedule in October and November and also gain some national respect for a program that has been improving since Mullen’s arrival in 2008.

This team gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield.  I mean have you ever heard so little about an SEC team that is undefeated into the second week of October?

This game will be fun to watch Saturday night with the Tennessee aerial attack going against perhaps the best secondary in the nation, and the winner of these two units could dictate the outcome of this game.

However, I will be watching what the Mississippi State offense does against a porous Tennessee defense that has given up 107 points in their last three games, two being losses to SEC teams.

Prediction: Mississippi State improves to 6-0 for the first time since 1999 and wins 30-27.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt

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