Mississippi State football: Grading the Bulldogs' loss to Kansas State
It was a shootout in Starkville, as Kansas State stepped outside of Big 12 Conference play and outlasted Mississippi State, 31-24. The Big 12 vs. SEC showdown lived up to its billing as the teams concluded a two-game series that saw the Bulldogs win last season in Manhattan, 31-10.
MSU will begin SEC play against Kentucky in Starkville at 3 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network in a crucial game.
The bottom line for the Bulldogs was that Kansas State controlled both lines of scrimmage all day. In the college game today, anytime you cannot maintain some control on either line, it will be a long game.
It was a game of big plays, and the Wildcats made more of them.
The loss wasn’t because of the offense, as the Bulldogs ran 72 plays for 352 yards. But MSU just could not get the Wildcats’ offense off the field on third down.
Graduate transfer Tommy Stevens started at quarterback for the Bulldogs and struggled to get anything going. Heading into the game, it was questionable who would take snaps under center. Stevens, who was 7-for-15 for 100 yards and one touchdown, was ineffective early and finished with two interceptions. Coach Joe Moorhead decided to toss the ball to freshman Garrett Shrader. Moorhead later told the media that Stevens’ shoulder stiffened during halftime.
Shrader managed the offense well, connecting on four passes for 51 yards. The freshman faced a fourth and 16 with less than two minutes to go and fell just 1 yard shy of a first down. He finished with 82 yards on 10 carries.
Kylin Hill made a few big plays but could never get things going, as the Wildcats defense forced the Bulldogs to throw early by putting eight men in the box. Hill finished with serviceable 116 yards on 24 carries. It was the first time the Bulldogs have lost when Hill rushes for more than 100 yards.
Anytime you give up 31 points, it is not a banner day. The Wildcats were effective all day at the line of scrimmage, rushing for 146 yards and throwing for 123. The biggest stat? MSU threw for 0 yards in the fourth quarter. The K-State defense completely shut down the Bulldogs on the final three drives of the game.
While no specific player jumps off the page for the Wildcats, the rushing duo of James Gilbert and Jordon Brown combined for 100 yards. Quarterback Skylar Thompson was good as well, going 10-of-18 for 123 yards and one touchdown.
For the Bulldogs, it was a breakout game for senior linebacker Leo Lewis, who finished with 12 tackles. Jaquarius Landrews and Erroll Thompson accounted for nine tackles each.
Special Teams: D
While it was a good day in the field-goal department, as Jace Christmann connected on a 49-yarder, the Wildcats busted a 100-yard kickoff return from Malik Knowles for a touchdown to overshadow anything else. The crushing blow early in the fourth quarter was the breaking point.
Punter Tucker Day finished the afternoon with six punts and averaged 40.3 yards a kick.
“We had to get the first down. I made the decision to go for it. It was all or nothing.” — Shrader on the fourth-down play when he went airborne
“We’re going to look back and see about three or four plays in the three phases of the game where we have to make sure we are in the right calls during the critical moments of the game.” — Moorhead
“We knew we were going to face adversity, and that’s what we talked about all week. In the fourth quarter we made some big plays, and our defense never quit all day.” — Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman