Tennessee – Miss State Preview: Calm Before the Storm?
Besides lawsuits and fractured hips, not much has happened the last two weeks.
A welcomed calm. But next?
It’s Knoxville. There is always something next.
It has been asserted that once upon a time (1930’s or 1940’s as legend has it), an old Jersey cow wandered onto the playing field during a Mississippi State – Ole Miss football game.
Since State won the game, the cow, or at least the animal as a symbol, was adopted by the Bulldogs and their fans as a measure of good luck.
Of course fans bringing a cow to every game is not an easy thing to do. Much easier to bring the cow’s bell.
And so goes the story of the cowbells in Starkville.
Eventually somebody had to make money off the idea. In 1964, the MSU bookstore began marketing the bells with handles welded onto them by a couple of university professors (I didn’t know they taught “Shop” in college).
But a good idea got out of hand. The ringing of the bells by thousands of fans, constantly, caused the SEC to enact a rule in 1974 prohibiting any kind of artificial noisemaker at football and basketball games.
The Bullies were crushed, longing for days gone by when they could bring deafness to any poor soul within spitting distance.
Hence, just two years ago, the conference revisited the issue and ultimately decided to allow State to ring them bells during pregame, time outs, halftime, and after Bulldog scores. It all was allowed under a single season probationary term. An added season was tacked on based on overall good behavior (there was a $30,000 fine for transgressions during the first two games), and now in 2012, the probation tag has been lifted and the bells are back for the foreseeable future.
Certainly the return of the bells in 2010 was what fueled State’s stellar season (9-4) that included a 52-14 whipping of Michigan in the Gator Bowl.
More than likely, it is the arrival of one Dan Mullen the year before that has caused the turnaround in the fortunes of Bulldog football.
Coach Mullen has his men standing with a 5-0 record for the first time since 1999’s Jackie Sherrill’s team, the year after the Bulldogs won the SEC West and nearly upset the Vols in the SEC Championship Game.
Mullen is as popular a coach, at least right now, as State has had in the last 30 years or more. Of course you wouldn’t know that reading stories of how some fans are skeptical of the Philadelphia native because of his avoidance of discussions of his religion. Catholic? Scientologist? Atheist?
And you think some of the stuff we have to put up with from sectors of our own fan base.
Nonetheless, Mullen has the natives puffing their chests out.
Success for Mullen should come as no surprise. He is a coaching disciple of Urban Meyer, having been Meyer’s QBs coach at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), and Florida (2005-08) where he moulded and mentored the likes of Tim Tebow and Alex Smith. His success as the Gators’ Offensive Coordinator was his ticket to a head coaching position.
Coming into Saturday night’s game, Mississippi State is really more of an unknown quantity than a high-powered undefeated team.
That’s because of their opposition: Jackson State (56-9), Auburn (28-10), Troy (30-24), South Alabama (30-10), and Kentucky (27-14).
Overrated is a word that comes to mind, but I’ll not dare to use it since we have our own issues regarding identity and direction.
State’s 11th national ranking in points allowed is easily characterized as having a sampling problem. Their 70th ranking as a passing offense will ease the pressure on Tennessee’s secondary, even though it has been the run more than the pass that has killed the Vols on big plays so far this season.
What Mississippi State does feature is a secondary that is one of the best in the south. But the scariest item is State’s turnover ratio: 11 to the good.
That will win you a lot of ballgames.
Both the secondary and turnover accolades are a reminder of NC State’s numbers and qualities from last season. But the Vols easily dismissed the Wolfpack with a powerful offensive showing in the season opener.
But Saturday is different. A late night game in a very unfamiliar environment, one that will be quite hostile compared with the home/neutral setting of the Georgia Dome has State as the popular pick amongst the nation’s scribes.
Simply put, this is a must win for Tennessee. Yes, another 0-4 October season would not kill Tennessee’s chances of a respectable finishing number (8-5 would be possible including a bowl win). But it would turn up the heat several notches on this football program that can’t seem to get any traction other than pre- and early-season hype.
Look for an entertaining game in Starkville. In the end, Tennessee has too much firepower and too much big-game experience for Mississippi State (Florida and Georgia as opposed to Auburn and Kentucky).
A signature win? Hardly.
But it would be Derek Dooley’s first victory over a ranked opponent and could provide some confidence and momentum against the nation’s finest in the following two weeks.
Tennessee 37 Mississippi State 24
Go Big Orange!