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Freshman QBs take stage for Bulldogs, Vols

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mississippi State’s visit to Tennessee on Saturday could feature a matchup of true freshman quarterbacks.

Tennessee quarterback Brian Maurer will make his second career start after delivering mixed results last week in a 43-14 loss to No. 3 Georgia. Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead isn’t saying whether he will start Penn State graduate transfer Tommy Stevens or freshman Garrett Shrader, who both have played quite a bit this season.

Maurer threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns in the first half against Georgia before tailing off in the second half. He finished the game 14-of-28 for 259 yards and also had an interception and a fumble. The fumble came late in the fourth quarter when Maurer was hit hard by an unblocked, blitzing defender, and it was returned for a touchdown.

“There’s way more positives than there were negatives,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said of Maurer’s performance. “He’s got to learn from them and not make the same mistakes again. But he did step in there and make some nice throws, and I thought our kids rallied around him pretty well.”

Moorhead isn’t saying which of his quarterbacks will start which means Tennessee has to prepare for both of them.

Shrader is the more mobile of the two. He’s run for 312 yards and completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 511 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.
Stevens has completed 63.8 percent of his throws for 448 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.

“We have a starter in mind right now,” Moorhead said early in the week. “That doesn’t preclude both from playing, either in separate series or both playing at the same time, either. We have a plan for one to start, one to play and then possibly (for) two to play at the same time, so (we) cover all the bases.”

Both Tennessee and Mississippi State could use a spark as they attempt to bounce back from lopsided losses. Mississippi State (3-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) had last week off after losing 56-23 to No. 12 Auburn, which was ranked seventh at the time.

“You can either dwell on it and allow the same game to try and beat you twice, or you can correct it, put it to bed and move on,” Moorhead said. “We chose the latter.”

While Mississippi State wants to put the Auburn game in the past, Tennessee is hoping its loss to Georgia represents a turning point. Although Tennessee ended up getting blown out, the Vols played well in the first half and led for most of the second quarter.

“I feel like we came out of our shell more,” Tennessee safety Nigel Warrior said. “I think more of the players, my teammates, we opened up a little bit. We played with more heart. That brought out more personality. If you looked on the sideline, you could see people jumping around. On the field, you could see more personality, screaming, talking to each other, communication.”

MISSISSIPPI STATE AT TENNESSEE
• Saturday, 11 a.m.
• TV: SEC Network
• Radio: 105.5 FM