No. 19 Mississippi St. prepares for Tennessee


No. 19 Mississippi St. prepares for Tennessee

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State might have a really good football team.

The five straight games the Bulldogs have won to start the season would certainly indicate that's the case.

But delve a little deeper into Mississippi State's schedule and it quickly becomes apparent that the 19th-ranked Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) haven't had a particularly tough road so far this season. Their victories have come over teams with a combined 8-19 record, so Saturday's game against Tennessee (3-2, 0-2) represents the toughest challenge to date.

And another chance to prove the doubters wrong.

``It's a game you look forward to playing,'' Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks said. ``It's some elite competition.''

Tennessee comes to Davis Wade Stadium with an explosive offense, one that ranks second in the SEC and 17th nationally with more than 506 yards per game. The Volunteers are led by junior quarterback Tyler Bray, a 6-foot-6 rifle-armed junior, who has thrown for 1,582 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions this season.

But the Mississippi State defense - led by its veteran secondary - insists it's ready for the challenge.

One reason is because the Bulldogs' defensive backs have combined for 37 career interceptions. Another is that Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell provides a lot of the same challenges during practice.

``I think they're the same guy,'' Banks said. ``(Bray) might have been playing a little longer, but it is football.''

There are some differences in the two quarterbacks. Bray has a tendency to take more risks, which tend to yield either terrific results or crucial mistakes. Russell is much less likely to take chances, and consequently doesn't have the same type of gaudy passing numbers.

But he's also quite efficient, throwing 10 touchdowns to just one interception.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said that discipline is indicative of Mississippi State's best quality.

``Their philosophy is sound, fundamental football,'' Dooley said. ``They grind teams out. That's what they do. The important thing is you can't get frustrated. You've got to play every play. If you play that way, opportunities will come. And when the opportunities come, take advantage of them.''

Despite the good numbers, Russell has stayed mostly out of the SEC spotlight. Others like Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Bray came into the season with more publicity, and Russell is just starting to get some notoriety.

A strong head-to-head performance against Bray would certainly turn heads. As usual, Russell is taking a low-key approach to the matchup and any fame it could bring.

``I feel like I really haven't done anything,'' Russell said. ``A lot of people say `He has 10 touchdowns to just one interception.' But I think there's a lot more I can do and that this offense can do. I'm excited that people are talking about our offense. We're doing some good things. But deep down, I know we've got a long way to go.''

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen agrees. He points to last week's 27-14 win over Kentucky as proof. The Bulldogs gained 427 total yards in the game, but didn't take advantage of good opportunities that could have turned a solid win into a blowout.

``I would've liked to have had more points on the board,'' Mullen said. ``I thought we moved the ball pretty well, but we missed some opportunities to score.''

The pressure will be on Mississippi State's offense to score some points on Saturday because it's doubtful Tennessee's offense will be completely stopped.

Both of the Volunteers losses have come to ranked opponents, and even in those games they've scored at least 20 points.

Dooley will not be on the sidelines during Saturday's game, coaching from the press box after having surgery on Tuesday to repair a fractured right hip. Tennessee's coaches said the change wouldn't be a big deal since everyone communicates on the headsets anyway.

``Coach and I have got a great relationship,'' Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. ``We talk throughout the game all the time. He'll be sitting right beside me. We'll see. We'll manage. We're both grownups. I'm sure he'll yell at me and I'll yell at him and we'll get right through it and keep right on with the game. That's kind of what happens.''


AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this story.


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Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Canadiens will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (43-24-7) take on the Canadiens (27-36-12) Saturday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Montreal.


The Capitals-Canadiens game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Canadiens
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime


You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.