Despite the searing losses we have all witnessed in past games, there is, at least, one glimmer of hope as the team moves forward. This hope can be found in true-freshman quarterback, Garrett Shrader.
After starting the game with two drives plagued with penalties, the Bulldogs were held to 22 yards and were already down 21-0 when starting quarterback Tommy Stevens was forced to leave the game after taking a big hit. Backup quarterback Shrader took over for Stevens and led the team to a touchdown on his first drive. Shrader finished the game with 209 passing yards and two touchdowns, in addition to 89 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.
While Shrader's performance was not enough to overcome Auburn, the team came to life under his leadership. His performance under pressure serves as a silver lining in the loss, and is a vital piece in developing a winning team at Mississippi State University. It also serves as proof to why Shrader should be QB1.
Shrader was recruited as a four-star out of Charlotte Christian School in Charlotte, North Carolina. The dual-threat quarterback completed his high school career with 6,818 passing yards and 2,205 rushing yards as well as leading his team to back-to-back state championships, according to MSU Athletics.
Tommy Stevens, on the other hand, was picked up by Head Coach Joe Moorhead this past offseason in hopes of replacing Nick Fitzgerald. According to ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, Stevens' career at Pennsylvania State University was marred by injuries that oftentimes prevented him from playing, and eventually led Penn State to look for someone else to fill the role. This trend seems to be continuing in Starkville. During the University of Southern Mississippi game earlier this season, Stevens left the game with an injury and has yet to play a full game since.
Despite only filling in for Stevens, Shrader had already racked up 590 passing yards and 374 rushing yards. Meanwhile, Stevens has 515 passing yards and only 52 rushing yards by the same measure. Looking at base stats, it is clear Shrader, despite being only a freshman, has the upper hand.
Besides stats, Shrader's ability to make plays while under pressure makes him a valuable player and leader, especially when the team needs it most. For instance, going into a hostile Jordan-Hare and leading your team to a touchdown after the starting quarterback went out is starter material, if you ask me.
Furthermore, one dimensional quarterbacks are predictable, and in a conference with multiple top defenses, being able to put up big numbers through the air or on the ground makes a difference. Shrader has a keen eye when it comes to making the right play. He can make great connections with receivers, but if there is an opening, he runs with purpose, making big plays when we need it most. For instance, in the game against the University of Kentucky, Shrader recorded 125 rushing yards on his own as well as 180 passing yards, as stated by ESPN.
In the long run, it makes more sense to make a shift towards Shrader. Stevens, injury-prone or not, only has one year of eligibility left. MSU has a golden opportunity to develop a strong leader and powerful player in Garrett Shrader over the next seasons. Dak Prescott started almost three full seasons with MSU, which gave him the opportunity to develop alongside his team and figure out the most efficient way to play with them, and did that not work out?
Making the investment in Shrader early will pay off. He is able to perform under pressure, make plays on his own and win games. The raw talent and leadership will only develop as time goes on, and Shrader could take MSU to the top, or at least close. Until then, my fingers are crossed.