With no room for error, Mississippi State searching for path to 6 wins
Mississippi State entered Neyland Stadium last week in a “must-win” situation for a variety of reasons. Some look to the fact that 2nd-year head coach Joe Moorhead is coaching for his job over the next few weeks.
The Bulldogs (3-3, 1-2 SEC) lost to an inferior opponent and now have no room for error to make the postseason. The hopes of 8 or 9 wins have all been forgotten.
Now, Mississippi State has to regroup at the midway point of the season. They should be 5-1 heading into the home stretch and the gauntlet of the SEC West. Instead, due mainly to questionable personnel decisions by their head coach, the Bulldogs have to muster up 3 wins against a daunting schedule to make a bowl.
The clichés in regards to Moorhead are all but played out. Whatever honeymoon period he had is all but lost. The former Penn State offensive coordinator needs an upset over the likes of LSU, Alabama or Texas A&M. On top of that, he must win over conference foes Arkansas and Ole Miss to subdue the irritated masses.
What has gone wrong?
The problems began before we knew it. They started as soon as Moorhead hand-picked Penn State graduate transfer quarterback Tommy Stevens. In theory, there was a competition with Keytaon Thompson and Garrett Shrader, but let’s be honest, Stevens was the starter all along. I’m not sure who brings in a graduate transfer who played for him elsewhere to serve in a backup capacity for 1 season.
Moorhead is a smart coach. I believe he has a good offensive philosophy and thought Stevens was the answer for that offense. Unfortunately, when the news broke, Thompson decided it was time to leave and the season began.
Stevens played very well against Louisiana and even better against Southern Miss before going down with an injury.
The numbers were good, but Stevens could not stay healthy. At all, actually. His stellar play in the first 2 games will end up being his brightest career moments in a Bulldog uniform, it appears.
With Thompson returning in what appears to be a situation when he just wants a redshirt season and has no desire to play, Mississippi State had no choice but to give the ball to Shrader, a true freshman.
Still, against Kansas State, Auburn and Tennessee, Moorhead started Stevens, creating a huge hole for the team to dig out of.
Rather than begin the season with Thompson, who put in his time behind Nick Fitzgerald for 2 seasons, Moorhead handed the ball to a graduate transfer.
To make matters worse, Moorhead stuck with Stevens when it was clear this past Saturday that Shrader was the answer. Only after 2 interceptions was a change made.
By the time he made the change, the season was on the brink.
Hindsight is 20/20, but if Shrader is the starting quarterback against Tennessee, the Bulldogs escape Knoxville with a win, and possibly Kansas State earlier in the season.
This past Monday, Moorhead announced that Shrader would be the starting QB going forward.
It could be too late.
Saturday in Starkville could be pitting No. 2 ranked LSU against a ranked Mississippi State team with a 5-1 record, hosting SEC Nation and being televised on CBS Sports.
Instead, the Bulldogs are somehow trying to salvage a season based on a few decisions made about the quarterback position.
How can they get to 6 wins?
MSU is circling 3 games on the schedule. A road trip to Arkansas, and home games against Abilene Christian and Ole Miss. Win those 3 and MSU would land in a bowl game with enthusiasm heading into the 2020 season. I cannot see a path for wins against LSU, Alabama and against Texas A&M in College Station.
Should Moorhead find a way to finish 6-6, clinching bowl eligibility by beating Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, I believe the critics will subside and his job will be safe.
If the Bulldogs lose to Ole Miss or Arkansas, all bets are off. This team should be an 8-win team heading to a Florida bowl at the end of the season.
Now, it is fighting for its bowl eligible life.