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December 30, 2011

In the trenches: Mississippi State

Wake Forest (6-6, 5-3 ACC) faces Mississippi State (6-6, 2-6 SEC) in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. This is the first-ever meeting between the two programs.

A Demon Deacon victory would give Jim Grobe his sixth winning season in his 11-year tenure in Winston-Salem.
Deacons Illustrated goes in the trenches with BulldogBlitz.com publisher Logan Lowery for an inside look at the Bulldogs.

1) Mississippi State entered 2011 with high expectations along with its No. 20 ranking. What are some of the main factors that kept the Bulldogs from meeting those expectations? "The main reason the Bulldogs underachieved somewhat this season was injuries to its offensive line early on in the season. They lost three starters during its first three games and began the year at 1-2 including a 0-2 start in a brutally tough SEC West. They had to replace those starters with redshirt freshmen and it's never good when you have freshmen starting on the line in this league."

2) Though Chris Relf has struggled this season how best does John Hevesy hope to use his dual-threat ability against the Demon Deacons, and what are some areas the senior quarterback has excelled in this season? "Les Koenning calls the plays for the Bulldogs and they like to run a lot of read-option plays with Vick Ballard in the backfield. Relf's strength has never been throwing the football but when he runs it's tough to bring him down in the open field at 6-foot-4, 245-pounds. Relf has been able to take care of the football relatively well this season which was something he struggled with early on in his career. MSU doesn't throw the ball downfield much but rely on quick passes and screens for a majority of Relf's throws."

3) The rushing attack appears to be a real strength for MSU's offense. What did teams do to slow down Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins? "When Chris Relf is in the game teams have loaded the box and dared him to beat them through the air and in most cases he has not been able to. With the injuries along the offensive line early on in the season it was tough for any of the Bulldog backs to consistently get open lanes to run through up the middle. But as the year has gone along the line has gelled together and the ground attack improved during the latter part of the season."

4) Cameron Lawrence, Charles Mitchell and Brandon Wilson are catalysts on defense. What do they do well, and who are some other players Wake Forest needs to be on the lookout for? "Those three players do get the majority of the tackles for the Bulldogs but it all starts up front with All-American Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd at defensive tackle. That duo are probably the top two d-tackle combos in the country. They also have an experienced secondary led by junior Johnthan Banks, who has 12 career interceptions including three for touchdowns."

5) What matchup(s) is-/-are Dan Mullen and his staff most concerned about? "The one I keep hearing about is Wake Forest's athletic three-man defensive front. The Bulldogs have seen several 3-4 defenses and even run some themselves but most of the nose guards have been big, run cloggers well over 300-pounds. Having a quick 260-pounder in there has caused some concern in MSU's camp simply because they haven't seen that look from any other opponent."

6) What is the current injury report on Mississippi State, and how significantly do you anticipate it impacting the Bulldogs in the Music City Bowl? "The only injury to really watch is at quarterback. Tyler Russell sprained his knee in practice two weeks ago and has been limited in practice ever since. With Dylan Favre deciding to transfer following the Egg Bowl and Dak Prescott redshirting this season, Relf will be the only healthy quarterback for the Bulldogs on Friday."


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