Dan Fleser: Tennessee And Mississippi State Preview

Thursday, October 10, 2019 - by Dan Fleser

Introductions are in order when Tennessee and Mississippi State meet on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

The football game (TV: SEC Network, noon) will be the first between the two SEC schools in seven years. The Vols and Bulldogs will be playing for just the third time in Knoxville since 1996. Mississippi State hasn’t won here since 1986, when Rocky Felker was its coach and the Vols were ranked No. 8 nationally.

Obviously, a lot has changed since then.

Here are some other storylines related to Saturday’s game.

Dual quarterbacks: Freshman Brian Maurer will get his second start on Saturday, UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said Wednesday night.

But don’t be surprised if the Vols play two quarterbacks. They’ve done so the past three games.

Mississippi State has used a similar strategy for a different reason, deploying senior Tommy Stevens and freshman Garrett Shrader behind center.

Stevens has started four games. He missed the Sept. 21 game against Kentucky because of injury. He’s a more effective passer, as evidenced by the disparity in yardage. He’s thrown for 448 yards and five touchdowns while 25 rushes have yielded only 26 yards.

Shrader’s playing career began in earnest when he replaced the injured Stevens against Kansas State on Sept. 14 and rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries while passing for 51. He started against Kentucky and produced 305 yards of total offense (180 passing, 125 rushing).

Both Bulldogs quarterbacks have seen action in four games. On Monday, Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said that Stevens and Shrader were “a little nicked up” but weren’t included on the injury list.

“First of all, they’re both good quarterbacks,” UT safety Nigel Warrior said. “They read their keys. The difference, I’d say, is one is a running back, not a running back, he runs more than the other. So that lets us know how we need to play.”

Shoops reunion: Mississippi State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will be making his first coaching return to Knoxville since serving as the defensive coordinator on Butch Jones’ staff at UT. Shoop’s son, Jay, is a walkon defensive back on Tennessee’s roster.

“I do not think you could ever completely ignore the emotional component of coaching or playing in a football game against an institution where you have been before,” Moorhead said. “I think Bob is a consummate professional and any feeling he may have good, bad or otherwise regarding Tennessee during his time there he will be able to put aside.”

On the rise: After catching seven passes for a career-high 114 yards and a touchdown last Saturday against Georgia, senior Jauan Jennings is tied for 10th in program history for both TD receptions (15) and receptions (113).

This season, he ranks sixth in the SEC for receiving yards per game (79) and touchdown receptions (five).

“He is an ultimate competitor; he competes every day,” Pruitt said after last Saturday’s game. “The guy loves the University of Tennessee. We need more guys like him.”

Johnson redshirting: With Jennings and fellow receiver Marquez Callaway both seniors, UT has opted to redshirt receiver Brandon Johnson, who will retain his final season of eligibility for next year.

“We talked about it a little bit as a staff and then I met with Brandon and his mom and dad and we decided to do that,” Pruitt said Wednesday night.

Johnson was eligible for redshirting, having played in just four games. He had two catches for 31 yards.

Thank you fans: The Vols continue to compliment UT’s turnouts and the atmosphere the fans create at Neyland.

Warrior weighed in last Saturday after thousands of Georgia fans also turned up among the announced crowd of 92,709 at Neyland.

“I could really feel their presence,” he said of UT’s fans, “and I just wanted to say that they came out and really gave us a lot of love and I could definitely feel it.”

Defensive back Baylen Buchanan, who hasn’t played this season, took to Twitter on Tuesday, posting a video of the crowd singing “Rocky Top” and encouraging fans to attend Saturday’s game.

“idk if y’all understand how much we feed off this type of energy, especially on defense!!” he wrote. “Vol nation please continue to show out in Neyland this Saturday at noon.”

* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

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