Vanderbilt, Mississippi State meet in clash of improving teams

National Sports

Coaches of Mississippi State and Vanderbilt said they believe the play of their teams is improving. And both teams hope to take another step in the process when they meet Saturday in a Southeastern Conference game in Nashville, Tenn.

Proof of improvements for Mississippi State: The Bulldogs (3-3, 1-2 SEC) are the only team other than No. 1 Georgia to have multiple wins against teams in the current AP Top 25. They have defeated No. 18 North Carolina State and No. 17 Texas A&M.

“I’m pleased we have improved at times,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said, “but we have to accelerate that process and do it more.”

The Bulldogs were reminded of how much growth remains for them to become an SEC contender when they were routed by then-No. 5 Alabama 49-9 at home last week.

“It’s easy to say that Alabama is really good, and that is true,” Leach said. “But my problem is we didn’t play as well as we can and that has to be solved.”

Mississippi State is a good measuring stick for the Commodores in coach Clark Lea’s first season. Vanderbilt has lost the past four meetings with the Bulldogs by a combined score of 107-34.

The Commodores (2-5, 0-3) were on the verge of ending a 15-game SEC losing streak last Saturday. Joseph Bulovas kicked a 28-yard field goal to extend their lead over host South Carolina to 20-14 with 1:36 left.

But quarterback Zeb Noland came off the Gamecocks bench to direct a 75-yard drive, throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Legette with 37 seconds remaining to give South Carolina a 21-20 victory.

“We certainly aren’t looking at this in terms of the accumulation of previous years’ games,” Lea said. “This is about Team 1. This is about what we’re doing this season.”

Quarterback Mike Wright made his first start for Vanderbilt in place of injured Ken Seals, whom Lea said is week-to-week with a finger injury. Wright will start again Saturday.

“I thought we were more explosive, which is something that had kind of held us back in the past,” Lea said.

Vanderbilt had a fourth-down stop in the red zone and made two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

“Our issue is stringing together a consistent performance,” Lea said. “We’re a program that feeds off competition and that wants to win. We are a work in progress and we are becoming the program we know we can become.”

–Field Level Media

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