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, Matt Millen and Allison Williams)
Melvin Smith, MSU’s cornerbacks coach, nailed it Monday when he said, “There are a lot of reasons why it’s a big game. It just validates what you’re about.” That latter sentence could also be applied to the Bulldogs’ secondary, and more specifically to senior corner Johnthan Banks.
He’s already a proven playmaker with what he’s done since bursting onto the scene as a freshman. Banks is currently considered one of the top cornerbacks in the nation, and he might be the best. As you can read in today’s Journal, Tennessee, with its high-octane passing game and big, talented receivers, will challenge everything we think we know about Banks and his fellow defensive backs.
Banks, of course, does not want this to be about him.
“All this national attention I’m getting, I don’t really care about it,” he said. “I want to be the underdog, and that way at the end we can say we proved everybody wrong. It’ll get a lot of hype just because of their receivers and our secondary.”
Ultimately, of course, Banks is right. Sure, this is a critical matchup, but game is bigger than him, bigger than those UT receivers. His understanding of that is pretty important, too. Banks knows he can’t do this alone, and that humility has served him well his whole career.
“Johnthan has had a lot of stuff happen in his life,” Smith said, “but he was really raised or reared by traditional southern folk — his grandma and granddad — and they instilled some really good stuff in him. That’s what make him special. It’s really not about him. He really wants to do as much as he can to help the team.”
That’s what Banks kept emphasizing on Monday.
“I haven’t done this by myself. My team, the D-line, linebackers, safeties – it’s a team sport. That’s what I enjoy most. Most people try to make it about me when it’s not, it’s more about my team.”
• Some UT links today: Here’s an interesting wrinkle to Saturday’s game: Tennessee coach Derek Dooley will be coaching from the booth, because he had hip surgery on Tuesday. … So who will be UT’s point man on the sidelines? Evan Woodbery has some ideas. … Jacques Smith is getting pressure, just no sacks.