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Mississippi State finally played someone resembling a real opponent this weekend. But the degree of difficulty is still on the rise
Until now, the knock on Mississippi State had been that the Western Division Bulldogs hadn't really played anyone. Their only two SEC opponents were Auburn and Kentucky, and the rest of the 5-0 start had consisted of a motley assortment of Jackson State, Troy and South Alabama -- with some of the wins against those teams being less than spectacular.
Well, Mississippi State has played someone now. No one's going to mistake Tennessee for Alabama, but it's hard to argue that the Vols are anything like Auburn, and for now the Bulldogs are no worse for the wear. They piled up 450 yards of offense, survived a late rally by the Volunteers, and are now bowl-eligible but looking for more after starting the year 6-0.
Tyler Russell led the way, going 23-of-37 for 291 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while LaDarius Perkins gained 101 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Throw in a pair of Tennessee turnovers and a 2-of-2 night on fourth down, and it's easy to see how State won the game. As for the defense -- Tyler Bray was largely contained, but the 6.3 yard per carry average is something the Bulldogs will have to work on if they want to make a run at the West.
We'll know how strong a run they can make soon enough. After State's game against Middle Tennessee next week, they face a five-game gauntlet that will define the season: at Alabama, Texas A&M, at LSU, Arkansas, at Ole Miss. After that stretch, it will be hard to claim with any credibility that Mississippi State hasn't played anyone; it will also be a moot point.
As for Tennessee, the game wasn't a complete disaster, but fact is that the Vols remain 3-3 overall and 0-3 in the SEC, with no signs immediate relief on the horizon. They host Alabama next week and then go to South Carolina before the schedule lets up a bit. There's a chance that Tennessee could put together a nice run after that; Troy, Missouri, at Vanderbilt and Kentucky are the November slate. But with two losses already in the books and a distinct chance at the losing streak moving to four, you have to wonder just how much the Vols will have left when they get to the part of the season where they can make some noise.