The first words out of head coach Joe Moorhead’s mouth after Mississippi State University’s embarrassing 20-10 loss at the University of Tennessee summed up the failure of the football team.
“[We] Did not play well enough in all three phases for four quarters,” Moorhead said.
Simply put, MSU was outplayed as the Bulldogs failed to outscore their opponent in any one of the four quarters. The Volunteers also produced more yardage through the air and on the ground in a dominant victory.
The matchup will almost certainly advance the brewing quarterback controversy in Starkville, as freshman Garrett Shrader, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and senior Tommy Stevens, a transfer from Penn State University, tie for playing time. They each played a half Saturday, with Stevens going 6-11 for 67 yards with two interceptions as the starter before being benched for Shrader in the second half.
Shrader would go 5-10 for 79 yards, with both a touchdown and an interception. Shrader also contributed 62 yards on the ground, while Stevens only created 26 rushing yards.
For the first time all season, Moorhead openly admitted Shrader was making his case to be MSU's starting quarterback going forward. At Monday's press conference to preview the game against LSU, Moorhead confirmed Shrader would be the starter this week.
“Tommy is still not completely over some of his things right now,” Moorhead said. “We just feel like Garrett has been playing and moving the ball well. He gives us a great shot."
Despite Shrader providing a nice spark to MSU’s offense, the true freshman felt he made too many mistakes, and that the Bulldogs missed a great opportunity to get an SEC win on the road at Neyland Stadium.
“We know this is one we definitely should have had,” Shrader said. “First, because of the mistakes you made. There’s just too many plays you wish we had back.”
With two losses in a row and a schedule that only gets tougher, the Bulldogs will likely be turning to their captains for crucial performances and leadership. One of those captains, Erroll Thompson, a junior linebacker from Florence, Alabama, produced defensively for the Bulldogs on Saturday.
He accumulated 13 tackles throughout the day, including five solo tackles and one tackle for a loss. Those numbers are his best all season, and his emotions carried him to that performance. His emotional return to the football field was because of how the game against Auburn played out.
“We lost last week and I got thrown out of the game,” Thompson said.
Thompson and the Bulldogs had a decent defensive performance, only giving up 20 points, and making two interceptions on Tennessee’s quarterback, Brian Maurer. Both of those interceptions came in the end zone. The first was caught by Cameron Dantzler, junior cornerback from Hammond, Louisiana, and the second was caught by Brian Cole II, a senior safety from Saginaw, Michigan. Cole said the defense played well as a unit.
“I feel like we had a good, solid game,” Cole said. “I feel like we tried to put the offense in good positions, but we can only do so much.”
The Volunteers were not able to do much offensively against the Bulldogs, until they put together a nine-play, 91 yard drive in the fourth quarter, culminating in a 39 yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Guarantano. That late fourth quarter drive ultimately put the game out of reach for MSU. Thompson said the defense was still focused, but just could not quite make the plays they needed to.
“I don’t know if we really wore down, but I know that we didn’t make the plays necessary to win the game," Thompson said. "It is what it is, we just gotta improve.”
The Bulldogs have no time to spend on the past with the number two team in the nation, LSU, coming into Starkville Saturday. Thompson said the Bulldogs need to move on if they hope to revive their season. He said he is already reminding his teammates how many games they have left.
“Just tell everybody that it’s back to work. We still got a lot of season left. We can’t just hang our head or get too high or too low off of a win or a loss,” Thompson said. "There’s still a lot of season left, and a lot of great opponents left. We can’t let this game beat us twice.”
With MSU playing LSU at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Thompson knew the Bulldogs will need to bounce back quickly after the loss to Tennessee.
“Saturday is coming,” Thompson said. “We can’t run from Saturday, it’s coming to us, so we gotta bounce back now.”