- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Those who have the unfortunate task of facing Mississippi State's secondary must deal with the thought of going into lockdown mode.
The clever title involving both players’ uniform numbers supposedly came from the mind of a fan, but the two have grown to love and live it, as they own the title of the SEC’s best corner duo.
"Me and Slay work real good together," Banks said.
Their seven combined interceptions (Slay 4, Banks 3) are more interceptions than 108 Football Bowl Subdivision teams have, they haven’t allowed a touchdown against them, Slay is one of four players nationally averaging 1.0 interceptions per game and Banks is allowing just 4.2 yards per pass thrown his way in man coverage.
Banks was thrown at 11 times through the first three games, but watched offenses pay the price, as Slay ended up being the only player in the nation to intercept a pass in each of the first three weeks of the season.
South Alabama avoided Slay, throwing 10 passes at Banks, but he left the game with yet another interception.
Things only get better when you add safeties Corey Broomfield, who moved from corner, and Nickoe Whitley. The foursome has combined to defend 12 passes and intercept eight. It's also helped Mississippi State's defense allow just 53 points in four games, the lowest allowed through the first four games since 1999 (28).
The Bulldogs are giving up 213.5 passing yards per game, but have allowed just two passing touchdowns while registering nine interceptions.
Yet, Banks feels the jury is still out on this unit.
"I don't think anybody else thinks we have a really good secondary, but we know we have a good secondary," Banks said. "It kind of makes us mad that I get singled out, out of the four. That motivates us. We know that people are going to come watch me and praise me, but that makes them go even harder to show what I can do, they can do, and maybe do it better."
Added Broomfield: "You can say what you want to say. You can put any list together that you want to, but we're going to put it on tape that we're the best secondary in the nation."
Through three seasons of work, these players have 32 career interceptions among them, but nearly half go to Banks, who ranks first among active FBS players with 15 career interceptions. He's also tied for third nationally with Broomfield with three interceptions returned for touchdowns. He's an excellent cover man who moonlights as a ball hawk.
But he’s nothing without his posse.
"I know I get all the praise, but I'd say we're all dangerous," Banks said. "All those guys just get it done -- 'Broom,' Slay, Nickoe -- all of them do the same things I do. It's just ridiculous how good these three guys that play with me are."
Banks said the crew really started to jell when Slay moved into the starting lineup. It gave the Bulldogs a chance to be in nickel on every down with Broomfield still on the field. Having three corners on the field at all times makes for more versatile packages for the secondary and provides more opportunities for man coverage, which they all love.
It’s also helped make them more competitive in practice. Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said his players have to keep an edge in the secondary, and they do that by constantly challenging each other in practice.
It’s almost another game to see who can out-do the other each day in order to eliminate complacency.
“In the big picture, if these guys can really prepare as well as I think they can, week in and week out, they'll only get better,” Wilson said.
Saturday, this secondary should feast off Kentucky's pass game, which will be without starting quarterback Maxwell Smith. The thought of possibly playing against two true freshmen quarterbacks has to make State's foursome salivate uncontrollably.
But in two weeks, Tennessee comes to town. Tyler Bray and his band of receiving threats will invade Starkville on a mission to rule the skies. However, they should tread lightly when around the precinct.
Handcuffing is its specialty.
“We're ready,” Slay said. “We're built for good competition and we look forward to playing good receivers.”
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