Bulldogs cleaning things up during bye week

Published 4:22 pm Thursday, October 3, 2019

STARKVILLE (AP) — Mississippi State is spending its off week focusing on what went wrong last week.

After winning their Southeastern Conference opener against Kentucky, the Bulldogs (3-2, 1-1 SEC) were blown out 56-23 at No. 7 Auburn on Saturday. Mississippi State fell behind by three touchdowns in the first six minutes and never recovered.

Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead spoke on the plan for this week at practice and what needs to be corrected before the Bulldogs return to action Oct. 12 at Tennessee.

Email newsletter signup

“It’s like any week,” Moorhead said. “Whether you win or lose, you’re working on fixing things that went wrong and you continue to emphasize the things that went well. I watched the game tape with offense, defense and special teams. What stood out was falling into a 21-0 hole and that combination of things.

“Defensively against a good team, we’ve got to stop the run and cover better. Offensively, we moved the ball well but didn’t connect on enough explosive plays that were open. And you can’t turn the ball over on special teams.”

Overall, Mississippi State is averaging 398 yards of total offense and 206 yards rushing. But Auburn held the Bulldogs to 334 total yards and just 118 on the ground.

On the other side of the ball, Mississippi State surrendered 578 yards of offense last week and suffered its worst loss since falling 49-10 to Auburn in 2017.

Offensively, the Bulldogs are still in a wait-and-see situation at quarterback. Penn State graduate transfer Tommy Stevens has made three starts but only played one full game.

Injuries caused Stevens to leave games against Southern Miss, Kansas State and Auburn. Freshman Garrett Shrader replaced Stevens in those three games. Shrader made his first career start against Kentucky when an injured Stevens didn’t play at all.

“Tommy is not completely healthy right now,” Moorhead said. “This week we’re just working on player development and giving a bunch of reps to the young guys. We will see where Tommy is at on Sunday and go from there. I don’t want it to get lost in the wash how Tommy was playing before he got hurt. The guy was dang near 70 percent completions and throwing the ball on time with accuracy.”

Stevens has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 448 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Shrader has completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 511 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.

Shrader has been the better runner of the two quarterbacks. He ranks second on the team with 312 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

“You feel good about either of them playing in a game,” Moorhead said. “Knowing (Shrader) and his family and his high school coaches for so long, I can’t say I’m surprised at how he’s competed. He is incredibly competitive and he doesn’t let the situation get too big or affect him. The thing that impresses me and our staff and his teammates is his ability to compete and produce at such a young age.”

The Bulldogs also struggled to get the running game going at Auburn. Junior tailback Kylin Hill leads the SEC with 596 rushing yards but was limited to 45 yards on 17 carries vs. Auburn.

“We had some miscues that we have to get better on and it’s all about execution,” Hill said. “Playing against a good team like Auburn, if you don’t execute right then you see the results. But we’ve got to move forward, and that’s the best thing we can do. If you keep thinking about the loss then negative things will happen until the next game. Like Coach always says, we are 0-0 this week coming up and we got to get that win.”