Vol pass catchers face State challenge

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If Tennessee wants to put up enough points to give Mississippi State its first loss of 2012, it's going to need both the passing and running game clicking.

The issue is that the Bulldogs enter with one of the more talented cornerback tandems in the Southeastern Conference.

"It's a great challenge for us," Vol wide receiver Zach Rogers said. "We kind of put that on ourselves. We know the group that we have in our receiving room, and we have T. Bray at quarterback. So, we know the kind of big plays that we can generate, and we're going to go against one of the top secondaries in the SEC and looking forward to it."

Although Akron's Avis Commack (6-3, 205) is arguably the best defensive back the Vols have seen thus far, Tennessee starter Justin Hunter says Mississippi State's back end reminds him of Florida's. The junior caught five balls for 76 yards against the Gators.

"They like to be real physical, get up in your face, just like Florida," Hunter said of the Bulldogs. "Florida was one of the most physical defenses we've seen this year. I think they compare to them.

"They're just always looking for a kill shot, a tackle, a jam, just disrupting you on your route, everything."

Johnthan Banks, listed at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, is a former three-star prospect that made his presence felt in Starkville from the onset of his college career, playing in all 12 games his freshman season. Last season he was second-team All-SEC after notching 71 tackles (46 solo), nine pass breakups, eight tackles for loss and five interceptions.

"From what I've seen, I know (Banks) is real physical," Hunter said. "He's real long and lanky just like the N.C. State corners. It's going to be a good test for me to see if I can get around them."

A majority of mock versions of the 2013 NFL Draft has both Banks and Hunter going in the top 25 selections. Hunter knows lining up out wide with confidence spilling out of his pores is the only way to go.

"Yeah, I've got to keep my head up high. I think I can beat them. I can't go in there thinking I can't," he said.

Although he dropped likely touchdowns against both Georgia and Florida, first-year Vol Cordarrelle Patterson has provide lethal already, both on the ground and through the air. The former five-star has 21 catches for 290 yards and two touchdowns. He's also averaging 19.2 yards per carry with eight attempts.

Darius Slay is State's cornerback on the other side. He and Banks have combined for seven interceptions thus far.

"They have two really good corners in Slay and Banks," Rogers said. "They know how to break on routes. They've been around, seen all the different kinds of concepts offenses run, and they can really sit back and pick people apart."

If the Big Orange can get the ground game going and suck safeties up near the box, it could mean house calls for the visitors.

"We put a lot of emphasis on that coming into this season, and we wanted to pound the ball," Rogers said. "We know that's going to open up the passing game and visa versa. Safeties are starting to respect the run a lot more with this offense and that's going to open up big plays for us."

With the talent the Bulldogs have in the secondary, perhaps Vol offensive coordinator Jim Chaney (who is fresh off what many consider his best playcalling since coming to Knoxville in the loss to Georgia) will be more likely to press the running game.

"We're not gonna let no DBs decide what we're going to run," Tennessee tailback Marlin Lane Jr. said. "I feel like they have good DBs and we have good wide receivers and have a good quarterback. So, we're just going to have to go out there and just let it show. They're going to have to make us going into different playcalling. If they do that, we're just going to bust them up with the run. But, we're going to stay balanced."

Senior wide receiver Zach Rogers See what Tennessee wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said about Banks, going against the Mississippi State secondary and more in the video from InsideTennessee below:

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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