Tennessee Stat Book
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Tennessee is learning how to almost pull off a comeback. Maybe that counts for something.
But it does nothing for a plummeting won-lost record. And it offers little hope for the next two Saturdays against No. 1 Alabama and South Carolina.
The Vols battled back from a dreadful first half against Mississippi State on Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium. They just couldn't come all the way back in a 41-31 loss to the Bulldogs that left them 3-3 for the season.
The Vols spotted Georgia a 17-point lead before rallying in the second half en route to a 51-44 defeat two weeks ago. They also trailed Mississippi State 27-14 at halftime before cutting the lead to three points in the second half.
The Bulldogs promptly tacked on a final touchdown with 9 seconds to play. How fitting.
The game ended as it began — with UT's defense reeling.
You can give the Vols credit for not folding. You can give their coaching staff credit for recruiting junior college wide receiver Cordarrrelle Patterson, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown, scored again on a pass reception and set up a field goal when he reversed field and outran most of the Bulldogs defense on a 34-yard, end-around.
But don't lose sight of the bigger picture. UT's defense is a disaster.
In fact, it's so bad that you have to wonder if this team can improve on its 1-7 SEC record of last season.
While I realize almost anything can happen in a football game, it's a reasonable assumption that UT will be 0-5 in the conference after the Tide and Gamecocks pick up where Mississippi State left off. How will this team handle 0-5 in the SEC?
Maybe it will bounce back just as it did in both cases against the Bulldogs. But nothing can be taken for granted now.
It's obvious a team doesn't have to be nationally ranked and playing on its home field to stay in the game against the Vols. You saw Akron do that for more than three quarters at Neyland Stadium
a few weeks ago.
While UT's defense stiffened in the third quarter, it looked terribly overmatched and unprepared against Mississippi State's first-half onslaught. The Bulldogs had 19 first downs and 293 yards in the first half. Its primary method of attack should have shocked no one.
This just in: UT's secondary struggles somewhat in the coverage department.
That helps explain how Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell had the half of life against the Vols. He was 17-for-24 passing for 212 yards by halftime. By then, Mississippi State fans already were in danger of injuring their elbows from excessive cowbell ringing.
Russell finished the evening 23-for-37 for 291 yards, and no interceptions — thanks to UT safety Byron Moore, who might have turned the game around if he hadn't dropped what should have been a fourth-quarter interception.
As helpless as UT's defense was in the first half, it also managed a fourth-quarter encore of sorts, giving up a pair of touchdowns.
Mississippi State's final score was as telling as anything it accomplished all night against UT's defense. At that point, the Bulldogs' goal was to run off the final minutes and deny UT's offense one more shot at changing the outcome. They achieved their goal and more.
They mixed Perkins' runs with Russell's pinpoint passing while driving 75 yards in 12 plays for another touchdown – and a final reminder that UT doesn't have enough defense to pull off a comeback.