The Tennessee Volunteers hit the road this week visiting Mississippi State. Last week, the Vols easily played their best game of the year in beating Georgia 35-14. Now the question is whether or not they can sustain that level of play from one week to the next.
Mississippi State's biggest liability is that they are one-dimensional on offense. They can't throw the ball and rank last in the conference in passing offense. However, they have a solid running game, averaging 161 yards per game. Anthony Dixon is their best running back. He ran for 152 yards against Alabama-Birmingham last week and is averaging 97.7 yards a game.
Though the Bulldogs have improved this year, they can't match Tennessee's athleticism. The Vols will simply have too much speed for them to handle. They will have some success running the ball, but expect Tennessee to run it effectively as well. Tennessee ran for 190 yards against Georgia, and it is no secret that they are most successful when they can mount a consistent ground game.
State is quietly having a nice year. Earlier this year, they beat Auburn on the road. Of course, Auburn made headlines a couple of weeks ago when they upset Florida at The Swamp. Mississippi State is 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the SEC with its only losses being to LSU and South Carolina.
In this game, quarterback Erik Ainge will continue his excellent season and Tennessee's speedy receivers will make big plays. The Vols could be emotionally flat after last week's important win and a big game against Alabama looming next week.
However, whatever hangover they have will disappear quickly.
The pick: Tennessee 31 Mississippi State 17
If a person needs further evidence that the Tennessee Titans are a legitimate playoff team this year, all he has to do is look at last week's win over Atlanta. Good teams find a way to win even when they are playing well below their potential and that happened against the Falcons.
Five turnovers and sloppy special teams put the Falcons in an excellent position to win. As good as quarterback Vince Young is, he had three interceptions and made poor decisions that reminded us he is only in his second year. However, the defense saved the day. Vincent Fuller returned an interception 76 yards for a touchdown and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth made a remarkable play when the Falcons had the ball on the Titans one-yard line late in the game. Never has a 20-13 win looked so sweet.
This week, the Titans hit the road to play Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are 3-2 but are coming off a 33-14 loss to Indianapolis. Quarterback Jeff Garcia is steady, but they have had a lot of injuries in the backfield. Last week, they only rushed for a total of 17 yards. Given how well Tennessee is defending the run, the Bucs' troubles running the ball will likely continue this week.
Look for Young to bounce back and have a nice game. Tampa Bay is solid on defense so don't look for big numbers from Young or the running game. However, the Titans' offense only needs to be good this week, not great. After last week's performance, they have nowhere to go but up.
The pick: Tennessee 21 Tampa Bay 17
Other SEC picks: LSU over Kentucky, Georgia over Vanderbilt, South Carolina over North Carolina, Alabama over Ole Miss, Arkansas over Auburn
Other NFL picks: Jacksonville over Houston, Cincinnati over Kansas City, Chicago over Minnesota, New England over Dallas
Last week: 11-3 (.786), Overall: 56-15 (.789)