Auburn hung 21 points on Vanderbilt in the first 16 minutes of play last Saturday, yet the Tigers managed just 323 total yards and a season-low 14 points against Mississippi State three weeks earlier. What makes the Bulldogs' defense so difficult to attack?
"Their scheme gives you a lot of problems," Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. "They do a good job of mixing fronts and doing little subtle things that really make it difficult to get a finger on it.... I don't think Auburn could ever get a real bead on them. It's kind of difficult to get a bead on what they're doing."
Whereas the Georgia defense Tennessee faced last weekend featured eight new starters, Mississippi State's stop unit is full of seasoned veterans.
"If you look at their front, it's physical but extremely fast," Cutcliffe said. "They have very experienced linebackers that can do a lot of adjusting and little things. And they have a very experienced, athletic secondary."
Mississippi State tends to wear down its opponents and outscore them in the fourth quarter. There's a reason for that.
"They play a lot of people – a LOT of people – so they keep their people fresh and expect them to play hard," Cutcliffe said.
The Bulldogs play hard, all right. They may lack the skill of Cal and Florida, but they probably are the most physical team the Vols have faced to date.
"Certainly, they're very physical on both sides of the ball," Cutcliffe said. "I imagine their scrimmages are pretty physical. They've got a defense that is very aggressive, very fast, and they've got an offense that comes downhill at you. That kind of creates physical football players."
John Chavis, Tennessee's defensive coordinator, was just as impressed as Cutcliffe with MSU's big win over Tommy Tuberville's Tigers back on Sept. 15.
"They went over to Auburn and beat a very, very fine Auburn team, so they're capable of beating anybody they line up against," Chavis said earlier this week. "We're going to have to make a tremendous amount of improvement from the Georgia game to this game."