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Can the Bulldogs turn Tennessee strength, their passing game, into a strength of their own?
The Tennessee Volunteers will be searching for their first win the SEC this season, after losses coming from Florida and Georgia in their first two tries. However, the Bulldogs will be looking to win their first game against the Volunteers since 1994. Tennessee has won the last two meetings in Starkville, but the Bulldogs last win in the series came in Starkville.
The Vols will bring a formidable passing attack to town this weekend. Tyler Bray and the Vols offense are scoring almost 40 points and are accumulating over 500 yards of total offense a game. While the offense looks like a million bucks, the defense has given up at least 20 points in every game except for one this season(the one game they didn't was against Georgia State). The defense is giving up 425 yards a game (exactly 100 more a game than the Dawgs).
Tennessee hasn't beaten a top-25 team since defeating South Carolina in 2009 and they haven't defeated a top-20 team since defeating South Carolina in 2007. MSU will need to come out and prove early that they are the 20th best team in the country if they want the Vols to really start to feel the pressure.
As much as I have praised the MSU secondary this year, even I have to admit, they are up for quite a challenge this week. Tennessee will feature the best trio of pass catchers in the SEC and arguably the top signal caller. The Vols will come at Johnthan Banks and company with the likes of Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and even tight end Mychal Rivera. And once they are on their heals, the Vols will unleash Rajion Neal who can get to the second level and will cause safeties Corey Broomfield and Nickoe Whitley to come up and make tackles. So the secondary will be tested in all facets this week and should really give the DBs a chance to prove their worth.
A lot of people like to think of Tennesse as just a passing team, but the Vols are far from one-dimensional and Rajion Neal's stats compare closely with LaDarius Perkins'. The Vols average 177 rush yards a game, just two less a game than MSU. Their running game is the beneficiary of the passing game, of course, but nonetheless, effective.
Getting pressure on Bray will play a role in helping out the MSU secondary and causing turnovers and stalling a passing game that is really the key to the production for the Vols.
On the offensive side of the ball, Tennessee has a pair of good linebackers in AJ Johnson and Curt Maggitt. The defensive line is solid and anchored by a 350-plus pound nose tackle in JUCO transfer Daniel McCullers. The Tennessee front seven isn't daunting, but they will get after the ball. MSU will not be able to come in and run down the gut. The Volunteer secondary has a knack for causing turnovers.
The key then to scoring for MSU will rely on being efficient and balanced (surprise, surprise). Here's what I mean: ff MSU tries to run too much, the Volunteer front seven will make them pay. If they pass too much and give the Vol secondary a lot of chances, they will likely cause a turnover or two. The offensive line will have to really have a good day and give LaDarius Perkins some lanes, as well as give Tyler Russell time in the pocket. If MSU can get yards on first down and keep the passes short and methodical, it could really give the Vol defense trouble.
On defense, it is simple: you have to pressure Tyler Bray and you can't let Rajion Neal beat you on the ground.
So where do I think MSU has a key advantage you ask? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that MSU turns UT's strength into a strength of their own Saturday. I think the Vols will come out trying to play to their strength and will go away from the running game and balanced attack and ask Tyler Bray to win this game from them. I really think this will give the Dawgs a chance to turn the ball over and give Tyler Russell and the MSU offense chances to score. I think it is key that the Dawgs get a lead early for this to happen.
So when you read this next week, I will either be telling you how much of an idiot I am or telling you I told you so. Likely the first, but we'll see.