The 2011 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl will feature the first ever meeting between the Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6, 2-6 SEC) and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6, 5-3 ACC). Wake Forest has turned heads this season by winning five conference games following a 3-9 season, while Mississippi State has persevered through one of the nation’s toughest schedules to become bowl eligible for the second straight year. Both schools have played historically well in the postseason; Mississippi State has won its past four bowl games while Wake Forest has won five of its last six bowl appearances.
Wake Forest’s offense features an effective passing attack led by sophomore quarterback Tanner Price. After an inconsistent 2010 campaign, Price has emerged this season to become only the second quarterback in school history to throw for more than 2,800 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has been even better over the last four games, throwing zero interceptions and 6 touchdown passes in 127 attempts.
Price’s favorite target has been record-setting wide receiver Chris Givens. The standout junior has caught 74 passes for a school-record 1,276 yards and leads the ACC in receiving yards per game. Sophomore wide receiver Michael Campanaro (63 catches, 705 yards) has combined with Givens to become the most prolific receiving duo in school history. Price, Givens, and Campanaro will have their hands full, however, against a Mississippi State secondary that ranks among the best in the country. Jim Thorpe award semifinalist Johnthan Banks anchors the unit, having totaled 64 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, three forced fumbles, nine pass breakups, and five interceptions (one returned for a TD) on the year. Fellow cornerback Corey Broomfield has nine career interceptions in his own right, making the pair’s combined 21 interceptions third in the nation among active teammates. These two ball-hawking corners have made it difficult on opposing quarterbacks all season.
In an effort to keep State’s secondary honest, Wake Forest will likely have to find a balance with their rushing attack. Senior running back Brandon Pendergrass has shown flashes this season, becoming the first Wake Forest player to post consecutive 100-yard rushing games since 2007.
A strong Mississippi State defensive front will not make things easy for Pendergrass. Four-time SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week Fletcher Cox will team with junior defensive tackle Josh Boyd in an effort to impose their size and strength on Wake Forest’s offensive line. Cox finished the season with the most tackles for loss by any SEC defensive tackle, while also recording the second-most sacks by any interior lineman in the SEC. He and Boyd make up on of the best defensive duos in the nation.
There’s nothing fancy when Mississippi State gets the ball on offense. They will look to pound the ball with senior running back Vick Ballard. Ballard has rushed for 1,009 yards and eight touchdowns this season, and currently is ranked fourth in the SEC in yards per game. He has scored 29 total touchdowns in his two years at Mississippi State. Ballard has anchored an offense that is currently on pace to have its third most statistically impressive offensive season in school history.
Ballard’s effectiveness against the Wake Forest defensive front will loom as one of the major keys to the game. Mississippi State would prefer to control the time of possession and keep the ball on the ground to grind away at the Wake Forest defense, while the Deacons will do their best to force senior quarterback Chris Relf to put the ball in the air.
Like Mississippi State, Wake Forest boasts an impressive secondary. ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, Merrill Noel, is tied for the nation’s lead in passes defended with 20- the most by a freshman since the NCAA began keeping the statistic in 2000. Noel and senior free safety Josh Bush, a first-team all-ACC selection, have given opposing offenses fits all season.
Both Tanner Price and Chris Relf’s level of play against strong opposing secondaries should go a long way in determining which of these two teams will have the most success on offense. Both teams have done a good job of protecting the ball this season, so this game will likely boil down to which offensive unit does a better job of executing against a well-disciplined defense.
All of the action will go down on December 30th at LP Field in Nashville, TN. Kickoff is set for 5:42 PM. Be sure to join us once again this year for Nashville’s Holiday Tradition!