Music City Bowl keys

Here are three keys for Mississippi State heading into Friday's Franklin American Mortgage Music Bowl against Wake Forest:

Get the passing game going: With Tyler Russell's knee still not 100 percent, the Bulldogs will send veteran quarterback Chris Relf out first against Wake Forest. Relf was one of the biggest SEC surprises last year, but lost his starting job during the second half of the 2011 season. While Relf has struggled this season, the Demon Deacons rank 72nd nationally in pass defense, allowing nearly 240 passing yards per game and have allowed 21 touchdowns through the air. Mississippi State's offense has stalled at times this year, but opening up the passing game could overwhelm Wake Forest.

Blanket Chris Givens: Mississippi State has a pretty talented secondary, but there was more bend in that unit than people expected. Now, that group will have to contain Givens, who led the ACC with 1,276 receiving yards and had nine touchdowns. Givens recorded seven 100-plus-yard performances this season, including an eight-catch, 191-yard outing against Maryland late in the year. The Bulldogs are giving up 195 passing yards a game, and containing Givens should be the top objective for this defensive backfield.

Keep Vick Ballard going: Quietly, Ballard eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark this season. With his 5-11, 220-pound frame, Ballard is a bullish downhill running back. He struggled with consistency throughout the season, but he's coming off a 144-yard performance against Ole Miss and the break should make his legs fresh. Wake Forest is giving up 163 rushing yards a game, and opponents have scored 19 touchdowns on the ground against the Demon Deacons. Passing will be important for Mississippi State, but Ballard is too much of a force to ignore.