Mississippi State Football Three Keys: Tennessee

Three-keys-Mississippi State

Mississippi State faces Tennessee on Saturday in Knoxville. Here are your three keys to a Mississippi State win over Tennessee.

By Matt Zemek

The Mississippi State Bulldogs have had a week off to lick their wounds and regroup after getting smoked by Auburn. Their visit to Tennessee marks a game they need to win to secure bowl eligibility (or at least, to not sweat bowl eligibility too much in November). However, for reasons you will soon see, this game became more tricky over the past week. Here is what the Bulldogs need to focus on as they head to Knoxville:

Key 1 – The secondary is primary

The Mississippi State defense, without its collection of NFL Draft studs this year, has predictably regressed. This is not an unacceptable or intolerable occurrence. This was going to happen. Alabama reloads. Mississippi State has not built itself to that point, to put it mildly. When Mississippi State gets its hands on three elite defensive players, the year after those departures is going to be more difficult. There is no getting around that reality. This defense was always going to need to adjust and find its own identity.

Let’s see what the idle week did to repair this defense.

Bo Nix showed against Florida that no, he actually was not an elite quarterback. He is a freshman who lacks total command of the Auburn offense and pressure-packed gameday situations. Yet, against Mississippi State, he thrived. That has to be a sore spot the coaching staff noticed on a Saturday when MSU didn’t play. A lot of teaching and motivating surely occurred on the practice field this past week. Now it needs to come to the forefront.

It is true that Auburn receivers have more speed than Tennessee’s receivers, but it remains that Mississippi State’s secondary was often overwhelmed by Auburn. In every aspect of secondary play, MSU needs to make visible advancements against the Vols. If not, Tennessee can actually make the Bulldogs pay a steep price. This leads to our next game key:

Key 2 – Cause Maurer to turn sour

The big news in Knoxville last weekend – despite a lopsided loss to Georgia – is that the Vols might actually have found a quarterback. Jarrett Guarantano struggled in September, so Jeremy Pruitt pulled the trigger on Brian Maurer, a freshman, to give him a chance to lead the Vols’ offense.

Maurer showed considerable promise, and the outpouring of enthusiasm from UT fans during and after the Georgia game showed how much he has temporarily changed Tennessee’s sense of what it can achieve.

Maurer has a gun, and he showed he could hit receivers downfield against Georgia. He changes and expands the field for the offense. The coaching staff felt that Guarantano was missing various plays; Maurer did not miss those same plays against UGA. If he steadily improves over the next two months, Tennessee will win at least one or two games no one expected the Vols to win three weeks ago.

Therefore: Mississippi State has to throw Maurer out of rhythm, not commit coverage busts which give him easy downfield throws, and unleash a pass rush which leads to hits and hesitation.

Maurer is a confident quarterback. MSU needs to make him doubt himself and overthink each play.

Key 3 – Get the jump on the Vols

If the MSU offense starts slowly, Maurer and Tennessee can make mistakes in the first quarter and not suffer severe consequences. If, on the other hand, the Bulldogs score 10 or 14 early points, Maurer will realize he needs to keep pace, and that is exactly how he will make numerous mistakes over the course of a full game. Applying scoreboard pressure to Maurer is the offense’s job, and that needs to happen sooner in this game rather than later.

Saturday‘s game kicks off at 11:00 AM CT (12:00 PM ET). Watch on the SEC Network.

This Week’s SEC Football News and Analysis

GameFirst Looks3 Keys
HighlightsFinal Stats
South Carolina vs. GeorgiaUSC / UGAUSC / UGAPreviewUSC 20, UGA 17Stats
Arkansas vs. KentuckyArky / KentuckyArky / KentuckyPreviewUK 24, Arky 17Stats
Florida vs. LSUFlorida / LSULSU / FloridaPreviewLSU 42, Florida 28Stats
Ole Miss vs. MissouriOle Miss / MizzouOle Miss / MizzouPreviewMizzou 38, Ole Miss 27Stats
Mississippi State vs. TennesseeTennessee / MSUMSU / TennesseePreviewTennessee 20, MSU 10Stats
Alabama vs. Texas A&MBama / A&MA&M / BamaPreviewBama 47, A&M 28Stats
UNLV vs. VanderbiltUNLVVandyPreviewUNLV 34, Vandy 10Stats
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