STARKVILLE — On Saturday night, Amari Cooper is going to stare in the eyes of a defensive back that doesn’t care who the University of Alabama freshman wide receiver is or what he’s done.
On the defensive side of the ball, Mississippi State University senior cornerback Johnthan Banks has done it all before.
“I don’t think it matters who we’re playing, every week he wants to go prove himself,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “He’s the leader of our team and we need him to be. I don’t know if he looks at this game any different than other games.”
Along with that, Banks is the most difficult challenge the youthful Cooper has seen in the 2012 season as Banks is a midseason All-American by six different media outlets.
“Defensively, they are one of the most difficult teams to score on in the country,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “They have two really good corners. They are physical upfront; they play with a lot of toughness. This is, no doubt, the best team we’ve played to this point in the season.”
After MSU’s 45-3 victory over Middle Tennessee State University, Banks still wouldn’t talk about the matchup with No. 1 Alabama the following week (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
“We’re going to enjoy this Homecoming win tonight,” Banks said last Saturday. “We’ll worry about Alabama from the next day on but right now I don’t have any thought on them.”
Cooper, a 6-foot-1 athlete from Miami, is giving Alabama fans visions of a former freshman phenom receiver named Julio Jones. Cooper leads the No. 1 Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 in Southeastern Conference) in receptions (28), yards (425) and touchdowns (5).
“I think the two guys (running back T.J. Yeldon and Cooper) that we have that are contributing offensively the most to become pretty complete players quickly,” Saban said. “I think that speaks to their maturity, how they practice, what they do every day.”
Banks’ job, along with fellow senior Darius Slay is to slow down a passing attack that averages over 220 yards per game. Throughout the week, Banks and the MSU defensive coaches won’t call players by their names but refer to them by their uniform number. Amari Cooper is “nine” and with no other descriptive superlatives.
“When you look at the leader, he’s going to set the standard for the rest of the team,” Mullen said. “We need John Banks to set that performance standard now and pull everybody up to his level. He’s done that most of the year and we think it’ll continue this week.” Mullen said Monday team doctors examined Banks after a left leg injury following an interception return and he’ll be 100 percent healthy to play Saturday.
MSU QB Russell named to Maxwell Award list: Mississippi State quarterback was added to the Maxwell Award Watch List, the school announced Wednesday afternoon.
Russell is the first MSU signal caller named to the watch list in the 76-year history of the award, which is presented annually to the most outstanding collegiate football player in America.
“I think in game situations he’s been hit a bunch, he’s had pressure come after him, he’s played in hostile environments,” Mullen said. “So he’s been through those situations. And I think once you’ve been through it you learn, I don’t think he panics very often. And when you start panicking that’s usually when you throw interceptions and make mistakes.”
Russell is one of only three quarterbacks in the nation with at least 15 touchdowns and less than two interceptions, Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell was added to the Maxwell Award Watch List, the Maxwell Football Club announced Wednesday.
For the season, Russell is 122-of-203 (60.1 percent) for 1,573 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception. The Meridian native is offensive leader of the No. 13 Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0 in Southeastern Conference), which is ranked 11th in the BCS and undefeated over seven games for the second time in the 113-year history of the program.
In three SEC games this season, Russell is 66-of-105 (62.8 percent) for 782 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. The signal caller is currently on pace to shatter mostly every single career and single-season passing record in school history.
The original Maxwell Award watch list in July consisted of 65 players, who were selected based on their performances during the 2011 season.
As the 2012 season has progressed, the Club believed that additional players warrant attention because of their noteworthy play.
Semifinalists for the Maxwell Award will be announced Monday, with the three finalists being announced Nov. 19. The winner of the 2012 Maxwell Award will be proclaimed as part of the ESPNU College Football Awards Show held on Dec. 6. The formal presentation of the award will be made at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala in Atlantic City on March 1.