Entering the season, there were analysts and fans alike that circled the Sept. 8 match up with Auburn as the first real test for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
However, as the football gods would have it, the first test for coach Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs will come this weekend when the high-flying offense of Tennessee comes to Starkville.
The Volunteers are averaging 506 yards per game on offense while scoring over 39 points per game, leaving Mullen cautious in regards to what his team will face this weekend.
“We’re certainly going to have our hands full with the challenge, (and) the team we’re playing this week,” said Mullen. “When you look at Tennessee, the first thing that jumps out to you is the explosiveness of their offense. They have NFL-type players at every position with their receivers, their quarterback, talented running backs, and an experienced offensive line. They can put up a lot of points. They have put up a lot of points and a bunch of points. They played Florida and Georgia in the SEC so far and put up a bunch of points on both teams, so they obviously can score a lot.”
Tyler Bray will be the man under center for Tennessee, which is looking to pick up a precious road win on Saturday. Bray has posted gaudy numbers through the first half of the season thanks in part to the talented Justin Hunter.
Hunter stands second in the SEC in receiving with 6.6 yards per catch and third in the league with 91 yards per game.
“It’s a great challenge for our guys," Mullen said. "They’re the two best receivers we’ve played so far this year, (and) on top of that, the best quarterback we’ve played so far this year, so that combination is certainly going to be a challenge for our secondary, and it should be fun."
Mullen said it will be up to his defensive backfield, starting with Johnathan Banks and Darius Slay, to hold down the Vols.
"Those are the guys that we depend on as the strength of our team with the leadership and experience we have on the back end," Mullen said. "They’re going to have to step up and play big.”
Mississippi State will counter with a talented quarterback of its own with Tyler Russell.
“He’s doing a good job," Mullen said. "He might not put up the massive numbers that other people put up but the most important record he has going for himself right now, which stacks up pretty good, is 5-0. He's doing what we need to do to win football games. That stacks up pretty good for him. If you watch him in the game, he's done what he's needed to do for us to win.”
Despite being undefeated and having his best year as a Bulldog, Russell isn’t getting the credit some feel he deserves, but that’s OK with Mullen.
“We'll see," Mullen said. "Let’s win some more games, and maybe then. It’s still so early in the season. I don’t know if we deserve a lot of attention yet. We’ve taken care of business. We’ve played well;, we’ve won games and found a way to win games. That’s great, but we're still in the early parts of the season.”
The two quarterbacks will have their SEC duel this weekend as the two teams square off at 8 p.m. on Saturday evening.