It was an incomplete football team that took the field for Mississippi State University Saturday, and it was an incomplete team that eventually fell against the Kansas State Wildcats 31-24.
MSU had their lack of depth exposed against the Wildcats in a contest that many college football analysts claimed the Bulldogs would win. While the most obvious absence was that of senior transfer quarterback Tommy Stevens, who left the game early in the second half, the quarterback position is one where the Bulldogs knew immediately who their next man up was.
That man is Garrett Shrader, freshman quarterback from Charlotte, North Carolina, who saw plenty of action last week against the University of Southern Mississippi, due to Stevens’ shoulder injury. Head coach Joe Moorhead said the decision to go with Shrader was brought upon by stiffness that Stevens developed during halftime.
“When he went in at halftime, he (Stevens) started to stiffen up a little bit,” Moorhead said. “We just didn’t feel like he was able to make the throws that he did in the first half, so we made the move.”
Shrader would go on to have a lackluster passing game, going four of 12 for 51 yards. He would, however, make decent progress in the ground game, racking up 82 yards on 10 attempts. Shrader said he was ready to go if needed, knowing that Stevens was still dealing with the lingering shoulder injury.
“After last week, I wanted to stay involved and prepare like I’m the starter,” Shrader said.
While the quarterback situation remains a major question for MSU, the Bulldogs were missing players all over the field on Saturday. In total, eight players were missing from the MSU sideline due to either injuries or suspension.
Nick Gibson, a senior running back from Birmingham, Alabama, and Cameron Dantzler, a junior cornerback from Hammond, Louisiana, both missed the matchup due to lower body injuries. Daurean Parker, a junior offensive lineman from Olive Branch, was also unavailable due to injury. His absence was certainly felt as the MSU offensive line was unable to get much going throughout the entirety of the game. Moorhead said the injuries certainly affected the team.
“It’s kind of like dominoes,” Moorhead said. “You sit there at the beginning of the week, and you’re looking at who’s available and at who’s injured. Trying to set the depth chart, trying to set the scout team. Then you have a guy or two go down during the course of the week of practice, and you get young guys in there.”
Then, there were the suspensions. Five Bulldogs were unable to play in the Kansas State game. Lee Autry, a senior defensive tackle from Albemare, North Carolina, and Willie Gay, a junior linebacker from Starkville, all certainly could have made a huge impact against the Wildcats rushing attack.
Also missing out due to violation of team rules were Marcus Murphy, a sophomore safety from West Point, Devonta Jason, a sophomore receiver from New Orleans, Louisiana, and Kwatrivous Johnson, a freshman offensive lineman from Greenwood.
Just like their roster, many of MSU's drives were incomplete on Saturday. A few solid runs from Kylin Hill, a junior running back from Columbus, would be followed by a missed assignment by the offensive line or a dropped pass. Hill would finish with 111 yards on 24 carries.
The Bulldogs could not seem to capitalize on any of their momentum. The best example of that theme came early in the fourth quarter, when a Bulldog drive created by a muffed punt by Kansas State ended in a field goal for MSU to extend their lead to 24-17.
This lead lasted until Kansas State’s Malik Knowles returned Scott Goodman’s kickoff 100 yards to the end zone, tying the game at 24-24, and giving Kansas State all the momentum in the fourth quarter. MSU simply could not counter that momentum, and the final fourth of the game was dominated by the Wildcats. Moorhead said special teams hurt them in the final quarter of play.
“It’s just that you go from being seven [points] up to tied, the momentum goes back the other way,” Moorhead said. “They kicked off and I think we had a penalty on the return which backed us up back to shadow of our goal post. It’s two back-to-back special team plays that hurt us.”
MSU would go down fighting, as a gutsy fourth down run from Shrader led to him flying through the air at more than six feet off the ground. Although his effort simply would not be enough, as he fell short of the first down marker by less than a yard, it was a decision Shrader said he knew he had to make.
“I made the decision that we had to get a first down. So, I made the decision to go for it. It was all or nothing,” Shrader said. “I got talked to about that, but I just have to reach the ball out next time, and maybe I'll get it.”
That run showed the toughness of Shrader and earned the respect of Osirus Mitchell, a junior receiver from Sarasota, Florida, who said Shrader was just fighting for his team and that his effort boosts the other players' confidence.
“He's one of the toughest guys I’ve seen. You saw how he tried to jump for that first down,” Mitchell said. “That just shows his toughness, and he puts the team first, so I really like Garrett. I feel like he has a very bright future.”