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No. 19 MSU's secondary ready for Tennessee attack

Associated Press Modified: October 9, 2012 at 8:02 pm •  Published: October 9, 2012
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"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