Music City Bowl is first meeting between Mississippi St., Wake Forest
Nashville, Tenn. • Wake Forest wide receiver Chris Givens has some powerful motivation when the Demon Deacons meet Mississippi State for the first game between the programs.
It's not protecting Atlantic Coast Conference bragging rights over the mighty Southeastern Conference.
No, this is much more personal.
Mississippi State linebacker Christian Holmes is Givens' second cousin, and that means family pride is on the line Friday night at the Music City Bowl.
"I know if he wins, I'm not ever going to hear the end of it," Givens said. "I really don't want that. Just going home because everybody is Mississippi State fans. I would like to just go home and say we beat Mississippi State in a bowl game."
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe doesn't care what motivates Givens, the redshirt junior who set a school record with 1,276 yards receiving this season.
"I would guess if you grew up in Mississippi, that you'd want to play well against Ole Miss or Mississippi State, either one," Grobe said. "Hopefully, we'll see."
Mississippi State wants to finish off a season that started with high expectations only to end with its first trip to the Music City Bowl after six losses to teams ranked in the Top 25 at some point in the season. After back-to-back losses to Alabama and Arkansas, the Bulldogs became bowl eligible by routing Ole Miss 31-3 in the Egg Bowl.
Senior running back Vick Ballard and senior quarterback Chris Relf, who will start his second straight game, know what they want.
"I want to win, and I want to leave out on a good note and hopefully send the younger guys into next season on a good note," Relf said.
Relf will start because sophomore Tyler Russell sprained his left MCL in practice before coming to Nashville. Coach Dan Mullen has limited Russell, who started four games this season, to make sure he's healthy enough to play if needed against Wake Forest as the only other option on the roster at quarterback.
"I expect him to be ready to play," Mullen said. "I want to see how the game goes."
The Bulldogs have won four straight bowl games, including Mullen's first as coach last year 52-14 over Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Relf started that game and was the MVP, throwing for 281 yards and three touchdowns.
This bowl is Wake Forest's 10th bowl overall and first since 2008, when the Demon Deacons beat Navy 29-19 in the EagleBank Bowl. Their only other bowl game against an SEC team was a 34-10 loss to LSU in the 1979 Tangerine Bowl.
The Demon Deacons want to cap a season in which they've rallied from a 3-9 record in 2010.
"We're looking at it, we don't want to end the season on a sour note," Wake Forest nose guard Nikita Whitlock said. "We want to end on a high. Being an SEC school makes it all the better."
Grobe is concerned about containing Ballard, who ran for 1,009 yards this season and eight touchdowns. Mississippi State has plenty of size on the offensive line to pave the way for the 220-pound Ballard, and Wake Forest gave up 162.9 yards rushing per game this season, including 184 to Zac Stacy of Vanderbilt in a 41-7 loss to end the regular season.
"No disrespect to Vanderbilt, it's going to be a lot more physical," Wake Forest linebacker Kyle Wilber said. "It's going to be a lot more physical. He'll run you over or shake you. He'll run past you, especially with that offensive line blocking for him."
Grobe knows his Demon Deacons are well rested with a month's break from that loss to Vanderbilt, which was their fourth in their final five games. But physical teams that like to pound the ball are dangerous.
"Got to get your pads down and grab some grass because you know you're going to be on skates if you don't," Grobe said.
That means Wake Forest will have to hold onto the ball offensively. Tanner Price is the second quarterback in school history to throw for more than 2,800 yards with 2,803 yards and 20 TDs, and he'll have to stay away from Bulldogs lineman Fletcher Cox, who could leave for the NFL after this game.
Givens likely will be going one-on-one against Bulldogs cornerback Johnthan Banks, a junior with five interceptions and nine passes broken up.
The receiver already has heard from the NFL that he could be a second- or third-round draft pick and will weigh his options after the bowl. Banks also is looking at his future, and the Wake Forest receiver can't wait to match up with Banks.
"I love playing against great competition," Givens said.
The Music City Bowl is sponsored by Franklin American Mortgage.
Music City Bowl preview
P Mississippi St. (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (6-6), 4:40 p.m.
TV • ESPN
Line • Mississippi St. by 61/2
Series record • First meeting
What's at stake • Mississippi State's losses came to teams ranked either when the Bulldogs played them or currently, including four in the final BCS Top 10. This is the Bulldogs' second straight bowl under coach Dan Mullen, and they're trying to win a fifth straight bowl for the program and in consecutive years for only the second time and first since 1999-2000. The Demon Deacons rallied from a 3-9 season in 2010, and previously won two straight bowl games and five of their last six bowls.
Key matchup • Wake Forest WR Chris Givens on Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks. Givens set a school record with 1,276 yards receiving and has received a grade of either a second- or third-round pick already from the NFL. Banks isn't sharing what he's hearing from the NFL, but the junior intercepted five passes this season and broke up nine other passes.
Players to watch • Wake Forest: QB Tanner Price. The sophomore is only the second quarterback in school history to throw for more than 2,800 yards, and he threw for 2,803 yards with 20 touchdowns. He has thrown 127 consecutive passes without an interception and has not had a pass picked off since he was intercepted three times Oct. 29 by North Carolina. Mississippi St.: DL Fletcher Cox. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound junior also has asked for a rating of his NFL draft prospects. He was All-SEC by The Associated Press with four sacks, 121/2 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries this season.
Facts & figures • Mississippi State is 8-20-1 all-time against the ACC. â¦ Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen has never coached against Wake Forest. â¦ The Bulldogs are 3-2 all-time versus the ACC in bowl games, including a 17-7 win over Clemson in the 1999 Peach Bowl. â¦ Mississippi State ranks 23rd nationally in pass defense. â¦ The Bulldogs are one of six teams to score a pair of touchdowns off both punt returns and interception returns. â¦ Wake Forest is 6-3 all-time in bowls with its last win 20-19 over Navy in the 2008 EagleBank Bowl. This the Demon Deacons' second bowl against an SEC team, and they lost 34-10 to LSU in the 1979 Tangerine Bowl. â¦ Wake Forest comes into the bowl having lost four of its last five. â¦ Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is 7-5 all-time vs the SEC. â¦ The Demon Deacons went 5-3 in the ACC, winning five league games for only the fourth-time in school history.