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No. 19 MSU's secondary ready for Tennessee attack

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No. 19 MSU's secondary ready for Tennessee attack

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Tennessee's Tyler Bray is one of the nation's premier pocket passers, and the 6-foot-6, 215-pound junior has the completions, touchdowns and passing yards to back it up.

Mississippi State's secondary couldn't be more thrilled about the challenge.

In the Southeastern Conference showdown, Tennessee (3-2, 0-2) brings its high-flying passing offense to face the No. 19 Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0), who boast a pass defense that has been among the best in the league the past few seasons.

The Bulldogs have a seasoned quartet of starters - led by cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay - who have combined for 98 career starts and 37 interceptions. Eight have been returned for touchdowns.

``It should be fun,'' Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.

Tennessee's coaches and players have plenty of respect for Mississippi State's defense, but won't make any changes to the offense. Bray has completed 61.1 percent of his passes this season for 1,582 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson are huge and talented receivers. Hunter has been especially productive, with 33 receptions for 456 yards and four touchdowns.

Passing is what the Volunteers do. There will be no secrets on Saturday.

``We're not going to hold anything back,'' Bray said. ``We don't care if we're playing Ed Reed or any of those guys. We're going to go after it.''

Added Hunter: ``I know their coaches are putting it in their heads that we have two good receivers over here. I think it goes both ways. They're talking about us. We're talking about them.''

And Mississippi State is eager to prove it's up to the challenge. The Bulldogs have cruised through most of their schedule so far, winning four of five games by double digits.

Tennessee will provide the biggest challenge to date. But Mississippi State has reason to feel confident in the matchup - mostly because of its lockdown secondary

Banks is the leader of the group. His lanky 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame is responsible for 21 career interceptions, including three so far this season. The senior has played against some great quarterbacks during his four years - like Florida's Tim Tebow and Houston's Case Keenum - but said Bray is ``different'' because of the sheer power he can put behind his throws.

``He's got a big arm. He's not afraid to throw it around anybody. I'm really excited about playing those guys,'' Banks said.

There's little doubt opposing teams would love to avoid throwing toward Banks. But picking on others in the Bulldogs' defensive backfield hasn't been a good idea.

Slay, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior cornerback who starts opposite of Banks, has been the biggest beneficiary. He leads Mississippi State with four interceptions.

Safety Nickoe Whitley has an interception that he returned 66 yards. The other safety, Corey Broomfield, is the only one without an interception this season, but has picked off nine career passes.

``Their scheme helps them,'' said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who had hip surgery Tuesday and will be coaching from the press box Saturday. ``They play a lot of zone, so they can just prey on a quarterback, break him down and they make the play. There's not that many big-time corners out there who've got the size, the athleticism and the instincts. These guys have it. They're good. You don't have that many interceptions by luck. You just don't.''

The respect is mutual. Mullen called Hunter and Patterson ``the two best receivers we've played this year'' and Bray ``the best passing quarterback we've played.''

Bray didn't have his best game in a 51-44 loss to Georgia on Sept. 29, throwing for 281 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. But the Volunteers were off last week and have had plenty of time to correct those mistakes.

Bray has a bit of a gunslinger reputation, confident that his strong arm can put the ball in the smallest of windows. That sometimes gets him into trouble, but Dooley said it's a trait he admires.

``There are a lot of quarterbacks out there scared, they throw it away every time they feel a little heat,'' Dooley said. `` ... I'd rather tone down this kind of guy (the risk-taker) than the other.''

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

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.