Posted by Jerry Hinnen
A look at the key matchup that could decide the Music City Bowl.
Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks vs. Wake Forest WR Chris Givens.
As we pointed out in our Keys to the Game for the Music City Bowl, the Demon Deacons don't have much to hang their hat on from a statistical perspective; they rank in the bottom half of the FBS in scoring, rush and total offense and as well as rush, pass, total and scoring defense. They aren't even particularly good on special teams, where Phil Steele's ratings place them 71st despite a 16-of-20 performance from placekicker Jimmy Newman.
But there is one thing Wake does well, and at times has done spectacularly: get the ball from quarterback Tanner Price to wide receiver Chris Givens. The two have hooked up 74 times this season for 1,276 yards and 9 touchdowns, earning the 6'0" junior from Texas first-team All-ACC honors. The most remarkable thing about Givens' 2011 performance was its consistency; he caught at least four passes in all 12 games (though never more than eight) and hauled in at least one touchdown in eight (though never more than two). As Givens' overall production went, though, so went the Deacons. In the eight games in which he finished with 80 receiving yards or more, Wake went 6-2; in the four in which he didn't (all of which came in the final five games of the season), they went 0-4.
Here's the bad news for Givens, and the Deacons: much like season finale opponent Vanderbilt and Casey Hayward -- who held Givens to four quiet receptions for 69 yards and no TDs -- Mississippi State has a lockdown corner to throw at Wake's best (and arguably only) offensive weapon. Junior Johnthan Banks isn't a household name and didn't even make the coaches' first- or second-team All-SEC thanks to the glut of premier corners in the conference, but Banks was the No. 1 reason why State finished 23rd nationally in pass defense and 11th in opponent's yards-per-pass attempt. Both rugged and quick, Banks has the skills to keep Givens every bit as quiet as the Commodores did.
But that doesn't mean he'll actually do it, not when Givens has the kind of talent he does and a veteran quarterback in Price who knows how to get him the ball. If Givens can't get the better of Banks, though, it shapes up as a difficult evening for the Deacons.