1. Time off: Last week’s off week for Tennessee came at a good time for the Vols, who were throttled 49-35 the week before at Georgia. It gave the Vols a chance to regroup and get healthy as they begin the final two months of the season. The biggest injury is to coach Derek Dooley, who underwent hip surgery at midweek and will not be on the field today. Instead, he’ll be in the coaches’ booth guiding the Vols.
2. Heading for a showdown: Mississippi State looks to continue its unbeaten run toward a possible showdown with Alabama later this month. The Bulldogs are coming off a 27-14 win at Kentucky. Their offense is middle of the pack in the SEC, averaging 34.2 points per game but the defense has been lights out, allowing only 13.4 points per game. However, this will be the best offense the Bulldogs have faced this season. Tennessee is explosive on offense, averaging 39.4 points and 506 yards per game.
3. Featured backs: Today’s game will feature a matchup of two of the top running backs in the SEC. Mississippi State’s Ladarious Perkins is second in the conference, averaging 99,8 yards per game on 82 carries. He’s scored six touchdowns. Tennessee’s Rajion Neal is fifth in the conference at 99.8 yards per game on 103 carries. He’s scored four touchdowns. At quarterback, Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell is coming off one of his best days, completing 23 of 39 for 269 yards and two TDs against Kentucky. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray is second in the SEC, averaging 316 yards per game and has a leaguebest 14 TD passes.
4. Tennessee’s road to success: Derek Dooley’s future at Tennessee could be determined by the Vols next three opponents. The schedule includes No. 19 Mississippi State today, No. 1 Alabama (Oct. 20) and No. 3 South Carolina (Oct. 27) before a home game against Troy. An 0-3 stretch leading into the Troy game could spell disaster for the third-year Vols coach.
A.J. Johnson Middle linebacker 6-2, 240 Junior
Johnson is the third-leading tackler in the SEC and should get plenty of opportunities to improve on his 9.5 tackles per game average as the Bulldogs will feature a heavy dose of the running of Ladarious Perkins. Johnson also will get work in pass coverage as the Bulldogs pass nearly as often as they run. However, Mississippi State still likes power football and Johnson must play a major role for the Vols today.
3: Sacks allowed by each team this season through five games, best in the SEC.
4: Number of interceptions by Tennessee’s Byron Moore and Mississippi State’s Darius Slay, tops in the SEC through five games.
6: Fourth-down conversions by Mississippi State in eight tries this season, tied for best in the SEC.
14: TD passes thrown by Tyler Bray in five games, most in the SEC.
19: Mississippi State’s ranking in the AP poll this week.
Mississippi State secondary vs. Tennessee QB Tyler Bray: Bray has the ability to light up a secondary as evidenced by his 316 yards per game average. Mississippi State is sixth in the league, allowing 199 yards per game through the air. The Bulldogs have not generated much of a pass rush so far, so Mississippi State’s secondary can’t rely on Bray being pressured into bad throws. If Bray is on, the Vols could put up some big numbers.
Tough game to predict, given that Tennessee was off last week while Mississippi State was battering Kentucky. Vols easily have the best offense Mississippi State has seen to date. Given the Vols defensive troubles this season, Bray and Company likely will have to win some type of shootout.
Tennessee 35, Mississippi State 28