Can MSU test Tennessee?

Mississippi State didn't show it in last weekend's 38-0 homefield loss to Alabama, but the Bulldogs have enough weapons to make Saturday's game with Tennessee pretty interesting. At least, that's the contention of Vol head man Phillip Fulmer.

''They're a very dangerous football team,'' Fulmer said during his Tuesday news conference. ''Their tailbacks (Jerious Norwood and Nick Turner) are guys everybody recruited, and they have a receiver (Justin Jenkins) who would start for anybody in this conference.''

Turner averages 5.8 yards per carry, Norwood 5.3. They rank among the fastest tailbacks in the Southeastern Conference. Jenkins, meanwhile, leads the SEC in receiving yards (770) and ranks second in receiving touchdowns (8).

What has killed the Bulldogs this season is a lack of discipline. Mississippi State has incurred 92 penalties -- 12 more than anyone else in the SEC -- for a total of 771 yards -- exactly 100 more than the league runnerup. The Bulldogs also rank dead last among conference schools in turnovers committed (27) and third-down conversion rate (30.8 percent).

For all of MSU's misery on offense, however, the Bulldog defense has really struck out. Mississippi State ranks last among SEC teams in first downs allowed (213), third-down conversions allowed (45.2 percent), pass defense efficiency (153.4 rating), rushing defense (187.2 yards per game), total defense (468.0 yards per game) and scoring defense (36.6 points per game).

Fulmer dismissed these statistics by noting that the Bulldogs ''have given up a lot of big plays. Otherwise, they've played very well. We'll need to play well to win.''

Saturday's game matches the two most veteran coaches in the SEC. MSU's Jackie Sherrill is in his 13th year, Fulmer in his 12th. Since Sherrill is stepping down at the end of this season, Fulmer will be the dean of league coaches next fall. Asked about that distinction, he quipped:

''I'd just like to stay around a little while. We were talking about recycling (a special promotion at this weekend's game) ... well, as long as they're not recycling coaches.

''If you stay in it long enough, I guess you're going to eventually be the dean of something. It's nice, I guess, but it's not something I've been thinking about.''

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