Mississippi State will be heading into one of the biggest games of Joe Moorhead’s career when it faces the Tennessee Volunteers next week. The Bulldogs will be coming of a very well deserved bye week, as Mississippi State will use the time to help injured players recover.

Following the lopsided loss to Auburn this past Saturday, the Bulldogs (3-2, 1-1 SEC) will need to leave Knoxville with a win or MSU could be reaching the danger zone of missing a bowl game.

The back half of the schedule includes home games against LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss with a road trip to Texas A&M.

Here are 5 players that must step up for MSU to beat Tennessee next Saturday.

LB Erroll Thompson

Mississippi State’s best player has struggled early this season and will be remembered for the targeting ejection against Auburn. It was not a banner game for the junior from Florence, Ala.

The good news: He has plenty of games left to prove himself. Thompson is still 4th on the team with 31 total tackles. He’s yet to record a sack or a tackle for loss, however. Part of that is scheme: He has been double teamed quite a bit this season. Last season, it was all the offensive line could do to keep Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons from blowing up the backfield. With the defensive line struggling this season, it’s making Thompson’s job more difficult.

Star Brian Cole

While the senior transfer from East Mississippi Community College has good numbers, he needs to continue and lead the defense on and off the field.

He has 25 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. By recovering 1 fumble and forcing another, Cole has been dominating, but MSU needs him to do more.

The game in Knoxville will be his most important game of the season.

The offensive line

I’ve been adamant that the experienced MSU offensive line was not only one of the best in the SEC but one of the best in the country. Against Kansas State and Auburn, this group failed to even get off the bus.

Next Saturday in Knoxville, the game will be won or lost at the line of scrimmage. Tennessee ranks 11th in the SEC in stopping the run — and the Vols might fall farther after facing Georgia on Saturday.

Kylin Hill should have a big day against the Vols. But against Auburn, Hill was kept at bay all night, only mustering 51 yards on 17 carries. Auburn’s d-line dominated MSU’s o-line.

It’s time they are called out.

Offensive line coach Marcus Johnson has done a nice job with the unit, but it hasn’t played up to its standards the past few weeks.

If the line doesn’t come to play against the Vols, similarly to the way it played against Auburn, it will be another long day for Hill and the rest of the rushing attack.

WRs Isaiah Zuber and JaVonta Payton

What started with a lot of preseason promise has been a dud so far. Zuber, the transfer from Kansas State, and Payton, the transfer from Northwest MS Community College, have put up pedestrian numbers through 5 games. Catching only 12 balls for 136 yards and no touchdowns, the duo must do a better job of getting separation from the defenders.

What will it take? Garrett Shrader or another teammate being vocal?

These 2 have been a glaring issue on a pretty solid offensive attack this season.

A backup quarterback

At this point, I’m unsure who that will be. If Shrader had to come out of the game, I’d plug Kylin Hill in there and run the Wild Dawg.

As for a backup quarterback to Shrader, the most we’ve been told is that Tommy Stevens and Keytaon Thompson are sidelined with an injury. The ball would probably go to redshirt freshman Jalen Mayden.

A highly decorated player in his own right, Mayden was the No. 2 rated dual-threat quarterback in Texas, according to 247Sports.

As it stands, this could be Keytaon Thompson’s team.

Instead, it’s Shrader’s job to lose and the MSU fans are just fine with that.