This week’s game: Tennessee (3-2, 0-2 SEC) at No. 19 MSU (5-0, 2-0), Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2 (Joe Tessitore play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst, Allison Williams sideline)
MSU is back home this weekend to face an SEC Eastern Division team for the second consecutive week. The Bulldogs are coming off a 27-14 win at Kentucky, and you can find my rewind story in today’s Journal.
As usual, I’ll have updates from the 1 p.m. Dan Mullen press conference. Now, let’s take a look at the Volunteers.
• Last meeting: Tennessee, 34-3 (Oct. 18, 2008, in Knoxville)
• Series: Tennessee leads, 28-15-1.
• Tennessee on the web: utsports.com
• Tennessee coach: Derek Dooley (14-16, third year)
• Three Tennessee players to watch: QB Tyler Bray, WR Justin Hunter, LB A.J. Johnson
• Premature review: In our Premature Preview of Tennessee, we looked at an offense that was shaping up to be one of the most prolific in the SEC. Led by Bray, the Volunteers have become just that. They’re averaging 39.4 points per game (fourth in the SEC) and 506.6 yards per game (second). Bray is second in the league in passing yards per game (316.4, just a shade behind Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson), and he’s tossed 14 touchdowns against six interceptions.
Five of those picks came in UT’s two SEC games, which were losses to Florida and Georgia. Bray was a combined 46 of 89 (51.7 percent) for 538 yards. Those are the only games in which he’s been held to under 300 yards passing. As a team, Tennessee was minus-3 in turnover margin in those losses; it’s plus-4 in the three wins.
Tennessee has a solid running attack, averaging 177.4 yards per game, just 1.6 yards behind MSU. Rajion Neal has led the way with 460 yards and four TDs, and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has given the ground game a boost, with 157 yards on just eight attempts – that’s 19.6 yards per carry – and two TDs.
And then there’s that defense. It’s given up plenty of yards (425.8 per game) and points (29.6 per game). There have been some bright spots, like Byron Moore‘s four interceptions, but this defense is very porous. It’s recorded only six sacks – last in the SEC – and is especially vulnerable against the run (186.2 ypg, 12th in the SEC). In other words, the Vols just have to outscore people, and one wonders if they can do that against MSU’s defense.
Vegas likes MSU, with the home team currently a 3-point favorite. One advantage UT has: It was off this past weekend.