Much of the focus over the last few weeks for Tennessee has been about their own quarterback battle. True freshman Brian Maurer ended up taking over for Jarrett Guarantano against Georgia, breathing life into an offense that desperately needed it.
He’s likely to get his second career start against Mississippi State on Saturday, but who will the Bulldogs start? Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead has his own quarterback dilemma going with Tommy Stevens and Garrett Shrader.
Each have gotten about equal time for Mississippi State this year, both throwing for more than 400 yards so far. Against Auburn though, it was Shrader’s show. He threw for 209 yards against the Tigers, adding another 89 and a touchdown on the ground. Shrader, a freshman, threw his first two touchdowns of his career as well against Auburn two weeks ago.
Stevens has thrown five touchdowns and two interceptions so far this year after transferring in from Penn State.
Moorhead had an open date last week to sort the situation out a bit. Of course, he’s not real interested in telling Tennessee who he plans on starting at Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“We have a starter in mind right now,” Moorhead said on Monday. “That doesn’t preclude both from playing, either in separate series or both playing at the same time, either. We have a plan for one to start, one to play and then possibly two to play at the same time, so we cover all the bases.”
Jeremy Pruitt is tasked with preparing for both quarterbacks, though he admits that they don’t change much offensively between the two.
“What’s the difference with 6 and 7 in the game, right? I don’t see a whole lot,” Pruitt answered, talking about Mississippi State’s quarterbacks. “I had an opportunity last week because we were off to watch the Auburn game, so I see Shrader playing — it looks more like the running part of Fitzgerald, who was there before. Shrader, he can throw the football, you see how the game’s called. But as you go back and look at their body of work, the other kid (Stevens) is running the football just as much too. I think that’s who they are, so I don’t see a whole lot of difference.”
Mississippi State has wins over Louisiana, Southern Miss and Kentucky to start the season. They dropped games against Auburn and Kansas State, bringing their current record to 3-2. The Bulldogs have fallen to 79th in total offense five games into the season.
If we’re following the pattern here, it looks like Shrader will get the go against Tennessee. He brings more to the table as a runner, which is something that the Volunteers struggled with out of the gates against Georgia State. But with Daniel Bituli back in the lineup, things should go a little smoother with an athletic quarterback in the backfield.
Mississippi State opened at a 6.5 point favorite over Tennessee on Sunday. The Bulldogs and Volunteers will kickoff from Neyland Stadium at noon eastern on SEC Network.