Mississippi State will make one more and one final quarterback change in 2019, with Tommy Stevens positioned to start in the Music City Bowl against Louisville.
Sources have told GenesPage247 that when the Bulldogs assemble for today’s afternoon practice at Vanderbilt Stadium, senior Stevens will have charge of the offense. He will replace injured freshman Garrett Shrader for Monday’s 3:00 kickoff in Nissan Stadium.
Coach Joe Moorhead was to meet with media following Thursday’s practice, the first bowl site session since campus practices ended December 21. The first 15 minutes of drills only are open to observation.
Going with Stevens is a complete change of quarterback plans from Moorhead’s December 20 interview. Having stated going into bowl camp Shrader would start, the head coach re-affirmed this plan. “We’re starting Garrett because he’s earned the right to be the starter,” the coach said that evening.
“Tommy is healthy. I don’t want to say go with the hot hand, but Garrett has proven when he’s the starter that we’ve won football games.”
The twist was that shortly before the press conference Shrader and a defensive teammate had been in a confrontation stemming from an in-practice contact drill. Their post-practice altercation escalated before other Bulldogs separated them.
The end result was a swollen eye for the quarterback which initially seemed of moderate concern. There was a short walk-through Saturday practice, with Shrader withheld from participation.
Follow-up examination after swelling subsided revealed some orbital bone damage. While further evaluations continue sources are now confident the bone will heal naturally, without surgical attention and perhaps by the end of January.
Shrader spent a short Christmas vacation with family in Charlotte, N.C. While any degree of practice participation is uncertain he will not play in the bowl game.
Also per sources, no bowl game or other suspensions are forthcoming for either involved player. Nor is the incident expected to encourage either to leave Mississippi State, whether for professional football or another college.
Though the cited cause is unique, abrupt change at the key position is nothing new for this 2019 season. Graduate transfer Stevens opened the year as starter with a win at New Orleans over Louisiana, then put State in front two touchdowns before a second quarter throwing-shoulder injury in week-two. Shrader finished out that game for his Bulldog debut.
Stevens started and Shrader finished the Kansas State game as well, before the true freshman was given the Kentucky start and entire win. From there it was almost a weekly matter, some weeks right up to game day, which would take first snap. Stevens had more health setbacks but so did Shrader as he came out of long relief duty at Auburn with a bad ankle.
Shrader also became ill before the Arkansas game with Stevens getting that start and win. Then an unspecified rib-area injury in the Abilene Christian game put Stevens out of the Egg Bowl entirely.
Though not 100% Shrader was able to not simply manage a rivalry victory but score two of Mississippi State’s three touchdowns in a 21-20 final which secured a Bulldog bowl berth.
The weeks since ending the regular schedule have allowed Stevens to get back in game shape. Moorhead confirmed on December 20 that Stevens had been running the second offense.
Now, he will snap the first team into Music City Bowl action. If this holds up Stevens interestingly will have started all nine of the 13 games played in his one Mississippi State season. Shrader will have four starts but also played off the bench six games.
Mississippi State will have three other quarterbacks on the bowl roster, though veteran Keytaon Thompson has only seen limited action as a receiver this redshirt season. Ironically he was thrust into the starting job for a bowl game himself as a 2017 true freshman and led State to a victory over, yes, Louisville in the Gator Bowl.
Freshman Jalen Mayden and veteran walk-on Logan Burnett will also be available.
This change should not mean any radical changes in Bulldog gameplan. The passing statistics for both are surprisingly similar. Stevens is 80-of-135 for nine touchdowns and five interceptions; Shrader 88-of-153 for eight scores and five picks as well. And while Shrader is the more instinctive, even aggressive runner with 587 yards and six touchdowns Stevens showed faster footwork in November. Of his 310 rushing yards all season, 258 came in just those last three games, and he threw only one interception in the final month.
Another twist is that Shrader was expected to have a procedure on the injured ankle sometime after the 2019 season ended. The goal is if possible to have the true sophomore ready by the start of spring football in March. That schedule has not been released.