STARKVILLE – Mississippi State began what it’s calling phase three of its Music City Bowl preparation Monday with its first practice in Nashville on the campus of Vanderbilt University.
MSU coach Dan Mullen had said phase three will consist of normal game week preparation that will consist of practices and meetings completely focus on Wake Forest (5:40 p.m., ESPN).
“You have the three phases: You have introductory, the fundamentals and young player phase which we just wrapped up,” Mullen said. on Dec. 16. “Phase-two starts is bowl week right here on campus. Then phase-three is bowl week at the bowl site.”
The Bulldogs arrived around noon in Nashville and conducted a near two-hour practice hours after landing near the site.
MSU (6-6) will try to focus defensively on stopping Wake Forest’s pass offense led by sophomore quarterback Tanner Price (2803 yards, 20 TDs, 6 INTs). The Bulldogs pass defense
“If we left here, we should be prepared and ready to go play a football game,” MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “(This) week is just cleaning up and polishing the game plan.”
Mississippi State’s defense led by Wilson, has been solid against the pass this season. The unit is currently ranked 23rd in pass defense and 37th in pass efficiency defense. The efforts against the pass include the Bulldogs allowing only 12 touchdowns with 12 interceptions in the secondary.
“They throw the ball over the place, they throw for 270-something yards a game,” Mullen said. “They’re kind of different from what I’ve seen of them in the past where they were a big run-oriented team; they’re kind of a pass first team now.”
Junior cornerback Johnthan Banks has intercepted five passes this year, giving him 12 in his career. His five picks rank tied for 10th nationally, and his 12 career pass thefts is tied for fourth among all active players in the NCAA. Banks was named a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back.
Against UT Martin, Banks returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown.
The former East Webster star is one of only two players this season to have both a interception returned for a score and a punt return for a touchdown matching Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer this season.
“Our guys were really physical on punt return up front and that’s a team effort because on one return there wasn’t a guy without 30 or 40 yards from me once I caught the ball,” Banks said last month. “If I get a crease then I can get some yards.”
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