Tyler Russell, obviously, is a quarterback. Conversely, Darius Slay is a cornerback. Both play for Mississippi State, but one is constantly trying to score, while the other stops at nothing to prevent anyone from getting so much as a point.
But now, with Tennessee coming to town, the pair actually agrees. Both Russell and Slay are concerned with two things as they make plans to try and beat Tennessee: three-and-outs and turnovers.
“Every drive is important,” Russell said. “You have one three-and-out, that might be the cost to the game. We gotta score every time we get the ball.”
Russell is fully aware of the Volunteers’ high-flying offense, and he looks forward to the challenge of keeping up.
Although, if Slay has his way, Russell won’t have a hard time doing so.
UT has been efficient in the red zone this year and done much of their damage there, but Slay has a simple solution.
“If we stop them from getting there, they can’t score,” Slay said. “We gotta get three-and-outs.”
Russell has a world of confidence in his defense, but so did Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray when Tennessee hung touchdown-after-touchdown on his defense.
Russell has found the line between confident and realistic, knowing full well how hard it is to stop the Vols’ offense.
“Tennessee is gonna put up some points,” Russell said. “We know we’re gonna have to score. That’s one thing we’re focusing on this week in practice. You gotta score.”
Again, it goes back to the three-and-outs, Russell said. They can’t have any.
MSU’s offense has to be on-point and well-oiled every drive, which, to be frank, it hasn’t been so far this season. Not consistently, that is.
“As a quarterback, you want to go out there and make plays,” Russell said. “You want to go out there and finish the game. Last week, I felt like we kind of got lackadaisical. We didn’t go out there and finish the game like we needed to.”
It’s a sure bet the Bulldogs won’t let off the gas again if they get up early, especially not against such a potent and dangerous offense in Tennessee.
However, Russell isn’t just going to “try harder.” He stressed the need to be smart in his confidence, as well.
MSU has only lost three turnovers this year, and the junior quarterback thinks one of the keys to taking down UT is keeping that number form growing any higher.
“I think it’ll be a high-scoring game,” Russell said, “and I think it’s gonna come down to who makes the least mistakes, like always in the SEC.”
Russell himself has only thrown one interception all season, coming on what Dan Mullen called a bad route by the receiver, not necessarily a bad throw by Russell. The other two lost balls were fumbles by senior receiver Chris Smith. Russell conceded they were disappointing, but also expressed confidence in Smith going forward.
On the other side of the ball, Slay likes confidence in a quarterback. In fact, he’s hoping for over-confidence, at least in the case of the gun-slinger he’s facing Saturday.
He’s also hoping for pressure on Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, knowing most of his interceptions have come when he’s hurried and he’s tries to force throws he shouldn’t.
“We’re trying to get them to commit turnovers, we didn’t have any last week,” Slay said. “He feels pressure, he just gets rid of the ball and throws it up. We’re gonna attack the ball.”
Surely, the battle of Bray and his receivers versus Slay and his teammates in the secondary will continue to receive attention, as it should.
Though, as Russell reminds us, there is just as much fun to be had for him and his offensive cohorts in Maroon and White.
The more this game is discussed, the more fun it starts sounding, and the bigger it gets.
A couple notes to pass along:
- Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley has surgery yesterday on a broken hip, the UT 247Sports.com website reports, and he will coach from the press box against MSU on Saturday.
- If you missed it Monday, the Bulldogs will have splashes of pink amongst the Maroon and White in their jerseys this week as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.