The Music City Bowl on Friday, December 30, features 6-6 Mississippi State and 6-6 Wake Forest. Two up and coming teams that are still trying to find their way within the elite circles of their perspective conferences.
Mississippi State under the direction of Head Coach Dan Mullen, started the season ranked No. 20 with high hopes to compete within the SEC West for a divisional title. After a 59-14 drumming of the Memphis Tigers in week one, MSU was ranked No.16 in the AP Poll before their showdown with the Auburn Tigers.
Auburn’s defense rose to MSU’s last second challenge when they stuffed Bulldog Senior quarterback Chris Relf at the goal line to preserve a 41-34 win. The goal line play would be symbolic of the season ahead for Mississippi State. Almost there but not quite.
The Bulldogs were a scrappy team throughout the season, but could never get over the hump against the better SEC teams. MSU held LSU to 19 total points, lost 14-12 to South Carolina, and trailed Alabama 7-0 at halftime before being worn down by the Tide 24-7.
Each of the six teams MSU lost to during the 2011 season made postseason bowls. Four of those losses came to teams currently ranked in the BCS Top 10—LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, and South Carolina.
Wake Forest had a similar season as the Bulldogs behind Head Coach Jim Grobe. After an upsetting loss to Syracuse to open the season, the Demon Deacons won four games in a row. Including, a big win over then No. 23 Florida State.
After taking down the Seminoles, Wake Forest lost five of seven games. All against teams with winning records. A close 24-23 victory against 3-9 Duke almost ruined the Deacons’ season.
Grobe enters the Music City Bowl on the proverbial hot seat. Grobe had a dynamic season in 2006 leading the Deacons to an 11-3 record with a berth in the Orange Bowl. Since then, he led the Deacons to two winning seasons, two losing seasons, and they are on the brink of another losing season should they trip against the Bulldogs.
Grobe’s overall record at Wake is 68-66, with three bowl wins to only one loss.
The Key Matchups
The Bulldogs will have to stop the tandem of wide receiver Chris Givens and quarterback Tanner Price if they expect to win.
Price was third in the ACC in total passing yards (2,803), tied for fourth in total passing touchdowns (20), and only threw six interceptions. His quarterback rating of 137.9 was fifth best in the conference.
Wake Forest gave up the 30th most sacks in college football this season (29). Mississippi State’s defense will look to take advantage of the 28 sacks Price gave up behind the Deacons' line.
Price will have to get rid of the ball fast, or Junior Bulldog defensive tackle Fletcher Cox will have a field day in Nashville. The Bulldogs sacked the opposition’s quarterback 21 times in 2011. Four of those sacks came from Cox.
MSU picked off 12 total passes in a conference better known for running the ball during the 2011 season. If the Bulldogs can apply enough consistent pressure on Price, they may be able to force Price into a costly mistake or two.
Givens, a Junior, led the ACC in total receiving yards. He set a single season school record with 1,276 yards. He was third in receiving touchdowns (9) and third in total receptions (74) within the conference.
Givens had seven games of 100 or more yards receiving. Deacons’ coach Jim Grobe will look to get his best offensive player the ball on running plays as well. He had four rushing attempts against Notre Dame for 39 total yards.
Deacons' Senior running back Brandon Pendergrass caught fire towards the end of the season in the absence of Sophomore Josh Harris, due to a hamstring injury. Pendergrass averaged 95.8 rushing yards per game over the final five games with five rushing touchdowns and one receiving.
Pendergrass finished 9th in the ACC in total rushing yards (750).
Senior quarterback Chris Relf started the season under center for Mississippi State, but gave way to a rotation of Tyler Russell and Dylan Farve before the end. Relf struggled in the passing game where Russell excelled.
Relf’s touchdown to interception ratio was part of the problem (9/7). Relf had a better completion percentage than Russell, 59.6 – 53.5, but Russell helped stretch the field better by averaging 8.0 yards per completion to Relf’s 6.3.
Russell’s touchdown to interception ratio was better (8/4), and he threw 42 fewer passes than Relf.
The Bulldogs’ top receiving target is Junior wide receiver Arceto Clark. Clark finished with 404 receiving yards.
MSU’s main offensive threat is senior running back Vick Ballard. Ballard finished with 1,009 total rushing yards, which is fourth in the SEC. But, struggled behind his offensive line in conference play. He had five 100-yard rushing games. Only two of those in conference play—Auburn and Ole Miss.
Ballard is a threat to receive the ball out of the backfield when they call his number. Against Auburn he caught five passes for 64 yards.
Wake Forest has the No. 76 ranked total offense in the nation gaining 374.50 yards per game.
Mississippi State has the No. 87 ranked offense in the nation averaging 355 yards per game.
Statistics can be misleading because the Bulldogs faced the top four defensive teams in the nation—Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and South Carolina.
The Deacons faced three teams with defenses ranked in the top 20—Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Vanderbilt.
MSU boasts the No. 43 ranked defense limiting teams to 355.92 yards per game.
Wake Forest has the No. 75 ranked defense in CFB allowing 399.08 yards per game.
MSU has the 19th best scoring defense in the nation holding teams to 19.92 points per game.
The Demon Deacons allow 27.75 points per game on average ranking their scoring defense 70th in CFB.
Wake Forest averaged 26.75 points per game during the season ranking 62nd in the nation.
MSU averaged 25.50 points per game ranking 73rd in CFB.
Wake’s passing offense threw for 255.58 yards per game, good for 36th in CFB.
MSU was ranked 92nd only averaging 186.25 per game.
MSU had the 45th best rushing offense in the nation at 168.83 yards per game.
Wake had 24th worst or the 96th best rushing offense averaging 118.92 yards per game.
Wake’s rush defense versus MSU’s rushing attack
Wake Forest is tied for 70th best rush defense in CFB with Georgia Tech at 162.92 yards allowed per game.
Bulldogs pass defense versus Wake’s passing offense
Mississippi State has the 23rd best pass defense limiting teams to 194.92 yards per game, only allowing 12 passing touchdowns on the year.
Should Tyler Russell have to win the game with his arm, the Deacon’s defense allows 236.17 passing yards per game giving up 21 passing touchdowns in the process.
Wake Forest is 6-3 all-time in bowl games having won their last two.
Mississippi State is 9-6 all-time in bowl games having won four straight dating back to 1999.
The Deacons faltered down the back stretch of the season. Will the time off before their bowl game recharge their batteries enough to beat Mississippi State?
Mississippi State has a very similar team as Vanderbilt. Both teams are scrappy on offense and play hard on defense for their coaches.
The Commodores limited Price’s ability to throw as he only completed 47 percent of his passes for 157 yards before being taken out of the game in the fourth quarter.
Vanderbilt has a two-headed running tandem between their quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacey, same as MSU.
Vanderbilt had an easy go at Wake Forest in the last game of the regular season winning 41-7. Look for the same here.
Mississippi State 34 – Wake Forest 24
The Music City Bowl will be played December 30 at 6:40 p.m. EST in Nashville, Tennessee.