Matchup: Miss State

This week, Tennessee takes on Miss State in Starkville. This is our take on this Vols vs Bulldogs matchup.

When Tennessee takes the field against Mississippi State on Saturday, each team will see familiar faces on either side.

Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe coached at Ole Miss where his chief rival was Mississippi State – he went 4-2.

Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis coached with State offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey at Alabama A&M in the early 1980s and at UT (1999-2003). When McCorvey had colon cancer while at UT, it was Chavis who helped him through the ordeal.

State receivers coach Pat Washington was UT's receivers coach for 11 years (1995-2005).

State's director of football operations is Brad Pendergrass, who worked as a graduate assistant at Tennessee.

UT receivers coach Trooper Taylor was offered a job at State under Jackie Sherrill but declined to stay at Tulane.

As intertwined as they are, don't expect one side to have an advantage. Cutcliffe said he's changed his signals and while Chavis knows McCorvey and McCorvey knows Chavis, neither thinks there is an edge regarding tendencies.

During Cutcliffe's six-year tenure as Ole Miss' head coach, he had a healthy respect for State, not a healthy dislike.

``I'm sure the Mississippi people would be disappointed to hear that,'' Cutcliffe said. ``It's like your parents taught you, there's not a whole lot that comes from hating other people. You better focus on positive things. I tried to focus on Ole Miss. We knew the importance of the rivalry. That was pointed out rather quickly.''

Cutcliffe also found out how tough it is to win at Starkville. While Scott Field seats only 55,000, many in attendance raise the decibel level by ringing cow bells.

But that's not the only reason it's tough to win in Starkville – unless you're LSU.

``They have a lot of good athletes,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I know Sylvester really well and he's a heckuva football coach and he does what he believes in and what he knows. And I think he's reaping the benefits of sticking with his plan and I admire him for that.''

State has several players Cutcliffe tried to recruit to Ole Miss, including the Bulldogs two best defensive players – end Titus Brown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and safety Derek Pegues of Batesville, Miss. Brown was not recruited by Alabama. Motivated by the snub, he has 16.5 career sacks, six this season. Pegues has four career interception returns for touchdowns and he's an outstanding return specialist.

``Titus Brown is a tremendous player,'' Cutcliffe said. ``He's got tremendous speed and strength. He started at linebacker as a true freshman and had a big year, then was unselfish enough to go down and play end because he was their best player and could be more active. He's very difficult to pass protect, yet he's strong enough to play the run.

``Derek Pegues was a highly ranked player coming out of high school and he certainly hasn't disappointed. He is very versatile, very fast and very physical. Their entire secondary is. … They've put together a nice team.''

Despite losing 45-0 to LSU, State's defense is pretty solid. Just ask Auburn, which scored 14 points.

The Bulldogs also run the ball well. Just ask Auburn, which gave up 172 rushing yards. However, State had just 41 passing yards against Auburn and will start a true freshman at quarterback against the Vols.

While UT's run game and run defense were much improved against Georgia, the biggest advantage Tennessee has it as the quarterback position.

Here's a look at the position-by-position matchups.

Game #: 1135
Site: Starkville
Date: Oct. 13
Conference: SECW
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Bulldogs - Croom


Vols

Bulldogs
OLCOMMENTSOL

UT hasn't allowed Ainge to be sacked in 182 consecutive pass attempts. Vols rushed for 190 yards against Georgia, which was giving up 119. This line is jelling. State averages 161.3 rushing yards per game but doesn't protect like UT's. Only one starter weighs more than 300 pounds.

QB'sCOMMENTSQB's

UT's Erik Ainge continues to play exceptional. He leads the SEC in accuracy (67.6 percent) and passing yards per game (259). He's 8-2 in SEC road games. State will start true freshman Wes Carroll, who watched his first college game in Neyland Stadium, loves Rocky Top and grew up a Peyton Manning fan. But he's completed only 22 of 41 passes for 178 yards. Michael Henig, the original starter, played poorly against UAB coming off a broken hand. He's hit 48.6 percent of his passes with nine interceptions and one TD pass.

RB'sCOMMENTSRB's

UT's Arian Foster was outstanding against Georgia with 98 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. Montario Hardesty had his best game in a UT uniform. LaMarcus Coker is still a game breaker. State's Anthony Dixon set school records for a true freshman last season with 668 yards and 9 touchdowns. He had a career-high 152 yards against UAB. He's averaging 97.7 yards per game. Backup Christian Ducre averages 4.7 yards per carry.

WR'sCOMMENTSWR's

UT's top three wideouts are each averaging at least five catches per game with a combined total of 185 yards per game. Not bad for a bunch of pedestrians dudes. Tight end Chris Brown has 17 catches. State's Tony Burks, who averaged 24.3 yards per catch last season, is averaging 17.2 on 11 catches. Jamayel Smith has 11 catches. Tight end Eric Butler was a preseason All-SEC selection.


Vols

Bulldogs
DLCOMMENTSDL

UT tackle Demonte Bolden is playing well and tackle J.T. Mapu had his best game since returning two years ago from a two-year Mormon mission. Robert Ayers has been the most disruptive end. State end Titus Brown is an All-SEC player who has 16.5 career sacks (six this season). He's a native of Tuscaloosa who wasn't offered by Alabama. State allows 130.5 rushing yards, UT 164.4.

LB'sCOMMENTSLB's

UT's Jerod Mayo and Rico McCoy have combined for 70 tackles. State's Jamar Chaney, who originally signed with Georgia but wasn't admitted, leads the team with 42 tackles. Dominic Douglas has 40. Gabe O'Neal has 36.

DB'sCOMMENTSDB's

UT's Jonathan Hefney had his best game of the season against Georgia. True freshman Eric Berry and Brent Vinson are athletic. Marsalous Johnson has been the most consistent, secondary coach Larry Slade said. State's Derek Pegues has four career interceptions for touchdowns, one this season. Corner Anthony Johnson has two of the team's seven interceptions. UT has five.

S. TeamsCOMMENTSS. Teams

UT was solid in every aspect against Georgia except punt returns. Hefney has yet to display the form that made him one of the SEC's best the past two years. Britton Colquitt is terrific at punting and kickoffs. Daniel Lincoln is 8-of-8 on field-goal tries. State's Pegues is one of the top return specialists in the SEC, averaging 20.7 on kick returns. Punter Blake McAdams is averaging 40.8 yards. Adam Carlson has made 5-of-7 field goals.


Vols

Bulldogs
INTANGIBLES

Tennessee is coming off an emotional win over Georgia. Will the Vols be flat or confident? State won at Auburn last month but few give the Bulldogs a chance and Sly Croom is playing the no-respect card.

PREDICTION

Tennessee 24, Mississippi State 13.


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