The box score didn't display typical Tyler Bray numbers, but he didn't take any sacks and his only interception was a last-second prayer at the end of the first half. He played a gritty second half while nursing an injury and had to earn the respect of his teammates. Bray never got a chance for a last-ditch drive in the fourth quarter.
Running backs C
In the second half, injuries forced Tennessee to use third-string back Devrin Young and true freshman Quenshaun Watson. Young's fumble — probably the most crucial play of the game — was especially devastating because he had been playing so well in a rare opportunity for extended playing time.
Wide receivers/tight ends C
Justin Hunter caught only two passes and notably alligator-armed a long pass on a crucial third down play. Cordarrelle Patterson made plays in special teams and out of the backfield, but caught only two passes for 25 yards. Zach Rogers continues to be a reliably sure-handed receiver.
Offensive line B
It's a testament to the line that Tennessee moved the ball so well on the ground in the second half, even with Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane on the bench. Bray took some hits but never any sacks, which is a credit to both the quarterback and his line.
Defensive line C
Tyler Russell was sacked twice, which is a lot for him. LaDarius Perkins chewed up plenty of yards, but there were few big runs.
A.J. Johnson was all over the place and was credited with an incredible 21 tackles (four solo and 17 assisted). Herman Lathers was second best on the team with 12. Willie Bohannon and Jacquez Smith were also active.
Byron Moore was beside himself when he missed an interception that bounced in and out of his hands. It would have been a game-changing moment against a team that never commits turnovers. It was tough to tell what kind of an impact the addition of LaDarrell McNeil and Jaron Toney had in the secondary, but the defense's problems are obviously far from solved.
SPECIAL TEAMS B
Patterson's 98-yard return kept the Vols alive during a miserable first half in which everything seemed to go wrong. But the way Mississippi State easily recovered a sky kick had to infuriate coach Derek Dooley. Michael Palardy took over for Matt Darr in the punting game after Darr shanked an early punt.
There were glimpses of what Tennessee would like its offense to be all the time, and glimpses of what the defense aspires to be as well. But it wasn't a complete four-quarter performance, which is something that has eluded Dooley's teams for each of the last three years.
This loss was devastating for the Vols, and there's no way to spin it otherwise. Tennessee must pull off a monumental upset in the next two weeks to avoid an 0-5 SEC start. That's a difficult reality to face for a team that started the season with much higher expectations.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.