Knoxville, Tennessee is one of the staples of the Southeastern Conference when it comes to college football in the South. From the Volunteers players participating in the “Vol Walk,” to the “Pride of the Southland Band” marching to Neyland Stadium, the Volunteer State loves its football.

UT it is home to several national championships, but those days have passed, with the latest title coming back in 1998. Since that time, Tennessee has seen 5 head coaches and many lean years in between.

But the Vols grabbed a much needed win on Saturday, defeating Mississippi State 20-10 to improve to (2-4 overall, 1-2 in the SEC.

While it could be a fleeting moment, magic returned to Rocky Top on a cool October afternoon.

As for the Bulldogs (3-3, 1-2, head coach Joe Moorhead needed a win on Rocky Top to calm the storm in Starkville after the lopsided loss to Auburn on Sept. 28. The questions coming into the game surrounded who would be taking the quarterback snaps, and they will take a much different tone in the coming weeks.

Here are the grades for the Bulldogs.

Offense: D

The first half, MSU went with Penn State graduate transfer quarterback Tommy Stevens. The experiment, which I think has been a dismal failure so far, was finally set aside in the second half as Garrett Shrader entered. It was not enough. Shrader was MSU’s leading rusher with 62 yards on 13 carries, but the Tennessee defense was splendid all day, allowing only 121 rushing yards.

As for the receiving corps, Osirus Mitchell continued to have a nice season, finishing with 5 catches for 58 yards. After that, it was a pedestrian day for an offense that came in with an identity of running to set up the pass.

Stevens finished just 6-for-11 for 67 yards and 2 interceptions. With a Tennessee offense that was equally as bad, the game simply came down to turnovers.

Kylin Hill, the talented Mississippi State running back, was held to only 13 yards on 11 carries and could not get anything going all day. Secondly, a Tennessee defense that came in with 8 sacks all season got to the MSU quarterbacks 7 times.

It was one of the worst offensive performance by Mississippi State in quite some time.

If the Bulldogs are going to become bowl eligible, they will have to correct offensive line deficiencies and find out what they are doing at quarterback.

Defense: B

The defense wasn’t the problem against the Vols. Far from it, actually. The Bulldogs held the Vols to 357 total yards, 190 on the ground. The MSU defense, which entered as the No. 27 red zone defense in the country, was superb once again. Erroll Thompson led the team with 13 tackles and MSU’s leading tackler this season, C.J. Morgan, once again played well, finishing with 9 stops.

As it stands, you have to play well in all phases of the game. The Bulldog defensive plan implemented by defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was terrific as the Bulldogs held UT’s quarterbacks to only 167 passing yards, with only 10 completions on 14 attempts.

To Vol offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s credit, he understood the limits put upon his young quarterback in the first half. The running back duo of Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan amassed 122 yards on the ground, which was all the Vols would need.

Tennessee receiver Tyler Byrd was the kryptonite for the Bulldog defense, finishing with 3 catches for 56 yards including the game-clinching 36-yard touchdown from Jarrett Guarantano late in the game.

Special Teams: C

When MSU needed to stay in the game, kicker Jace Christmann missed a chip shot field goal with under a minute to go.

That miss was indicative of how the day would go, though Christmann did connect on a career long 51-yard field goal in the second quarter. Tucker Day finished the day with a 43.2 yard average on 4 punts and a long of 56 yards.

Who’s next?

The Bulldogs will continue its stretch of 5 straight SEC games with a home date against LSU on Saturday in Starkville. The Tigers seek their 75th win of the series, which dates back to 1896. The Tigers won the last meeting inside Davis Wade Stadium, 37-7 in 2017.

The next few weeks will be brutal with road trips to Texas A&M and Arkansas, before the Bulldogs come home to face Alabama and Ole Miss.

As it stands, the date with Abilene Christian on Nov. 23 will be the only game you can circle on the Bulldog schedule as a guaranteed win.

With Saturday’s loss, the remainder of the season will be dicey for head coach Joe Moorhead.


“We didn’t play well enough in all three phases of the game. That falls on me and we’ll get it fixed. Our players are resilient, and we don’t have time to dwell on the loss with LSU coming in,” MSU head coach Joe Moorhead said. “The players are angry and upset in the locker room. We have to regroup here at the midway point of the season.”

“I was just trying to stay loose in the first half, just staying loose,” Shrader said. “I just need to work on keeping my eyes open and trust my arm more.”