Croom's team on upswing

This is not a good time for the Tennessee Vols to be facing Mississippi State.

Since losing 38-7 to Georgia Tech on Sept. 20, Sylvester Croom's Bulldogs have pushed defending national champ LSU before losing 34-24, then upset No. 13 Vanderbilt 17-14. The most recent outing prompted their head coach to say, "We've got our identity back."

That does not bode well for the Vols, who six games into the 2008 season still have no idea what their identity might be.

State beat Vanderbilt Saturday the same way Georgia beat Tennessee – by playing keep-away. MSU kept the ball 36 minutes and 12 seconds against the Commodores, while Georgia kept the ball 42 minutes and 4 seconds against the Vols.

Croom's team got just 81 passing yards and 247 total yards vs. Vandy but limited the Dores to 1 of 10 on third-down conversions and 107 total yards.

Here's a complete look at UT's remaining opponents:

MISSISSIPPI STATE (OCT. 18): The Bulldogs (2-4 overall, 1-2 SEC) got 107 yards from Anthony Dixon while limiting Vanderbilt to the same number of total yards in a 17-14 upset of the nationally ranked Commodores. The Bulldogs converted 9 of 18 third-down plays, while limiting the Dores to 1 of 10.

ALABAMA (OCT. 25): The second-ranked Tide (6-0, 3-0) enjoyed an open date.

SOUTH CAROLINA (NOV. 1): One week after being named SEC offensive player of the week, Gamecock quarterback Chris Smelley was benched after completing just 9 of 23 passes for 105 yards with two interceptions at Kentucky. Stephen Garcia came off the bench to connect on 10 of 14 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown, rallying Carolina (5-2, 2-2) to a 24-17 triumph.

WYOMING (NOV. 8): The Cowboys (2-5) actually posted more first downs (14 to 11) and more total yards (252 to 242) against No. 14 Utah, only to surrender five turnovers en route to a 40-7 setback. Wyoming allowed only 4 of 17 third-down conversions but converted on just 2 of 13 attempts itself. Running back Devin Moore rushed 23 times for 106 yards for the Cowboys; quarterback Karsten Sween completed 8 of 18 passes for 52 yards with three interceptions.

VANDERBILT (NOV. 22): Chris Nickson completed just 3 of 10 passes for 15 yards and threw an interception that was returned to Vandy's 7-yard line to set up a touchdown as the Commodores (5-1, 3-1) suffered a 17-14 loss at Mississippi State. Mackenzi Adams relieved Nickson and completed 5 of 9 passes for 47 yards.

KENTUCKY (NOV. 29): The Wildcats (4-2, 0-2) converted on just 1 of 16 third-down tries in a 24-17 loss to visiting South Carolina. Mike Hartline completed 23 of 43 passes for for 152 yards with two interceptions. Ryan Tydlacka booted a 51-yard field goal for the Big Blue.

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