The Mississippi State Bulldogs are being humbled… or at least, their coach is. Joe Moorhead has said that the experience of coaching in the SEC after coming South from Penn State has been “humbling.”
By Matt Zemek
Moorhead was likely to go through a rough period this season, given that he had three top-27 NFL Draft picks last year and managed to win only eight regular season games. If last year generated only eight wins, this year – with a clearly inferior roster compared to 2018 – was likely to generate fewer wins.
We are seeing the limitations of this roster in full detail.
The good news – or at least, the clarifying news – for Mississippi State is that Tommy Stevens is not the answer at quarterback. It isn’t good in the sense that Stevens didn’t work out, but it is good in that a point of uncertainty has now been resolved. Moorhead will start Garrett Shrader against LSU on Saturday. He ought to make Shrader the quarterback for the rest of the season and try to build an identity he can carry into 2020. Shrader is the first key to this contest against LSU.
1 – Shrader the shredder of the LSU secondary
One shouldn’t expect Shrader to flourish in this game, but LSU’s defense is certainly vulnerable. Kyle Trask, who – like Shrader – was not the opening day starting quarterback for his team this season, took over the starting role for Florida and played well against LSU. Florida’s offense made very few mistakes in the first two and a half quarters against the Tigers. Trask was able to hit receivers on 15- and 20-yard routes in the middle third of the field. LSU was often out of position, a partial result of injuries which have ravaged this defense and robbed the Tigers of continuity.
Shrader will see the opportunities he has to exploit the LSU defense when he does his film study this week. Translating film study to actual on-field performance will be a challenge, but it is an attainable one. This is how Mississippi State’s offense can get healthy after Stevens couldn’t do much against Tennessee in Week 7.
The bigger point about Shrader: He is a freshman. If he fails here in this spot, it is not a verdict against him. Moorhead needs to see what he can do in this game. Don’t be timid. Allow the freshman to fail so that in 2020, he can be given an ambitious game plan at the very start of the season. In many ways, this is a game meant to develop Shrader for the future.
2 – Interception expectations
Mississippi State came up with multiple interceptions last week against Tennessee. Yes, Joe Burrow is by far the best quarterback MSU will have faced this season, but maybe those INTs versus the Vols can become contagious. Maybe MSU’s secondary is ready to make more plays and find a higher level of confidence. This would be a great time to develop even more self-belief.
3 – Red-zone defense
LSU scored six touchdowns against Florida. The Tigers win with big plays and sustained drives. They can win any way they want to. An opponent which can beat them is an opponent which can play strong red-zone defense. Is MSU ready for the ultimate challenge? We’ll find out.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 2:30 PM CT. Watch on the CBS Network.