The Tennessee Volunteers suffered a crushing blow to their hopes for a 2012 rebound season after the loss at Mississippi State. With Alabama and a trip to South Carolina coming up, it looks like after a 2-0 start, the Vols could lose five of six.
Tennessee faced a 27-14 halftime deficit, but came out of the locker rooms looking like a new team in the third quarter. However, even the most valiant efforts of the Big Orange weren't enough to overcome the Bulldogs' efficient offense and bend-but-don't-break defense.
As for the winners and losers from the game, here are mine.
What happened to passing game? The last time the Vols faced a top secondary like Mississippi State’s, the opponent was NC State. Tennessee torched that secondary for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
But Saturday, the same Volunteer passing attack managed just 148 passing yards, leaving a lot to be desired, to say the least. The Vols field three first-rounders within their passing game, so to muster less than 150 in any game is wholly unacceptable.
Jim Chaney called two deep passes on 3rd-and-short that cost the Volunteers dearly too. I believe the word I used to describe them at the time was "amateurish." I stand by that.
The passing game was a huge disappointment.
Where would the Volunteers be without Cordarrelle Patterson? Not only is he one of the most electrifying playmakers in the country, he saves his biggest bursts for the biggest games.
Patterson’s 98-yard touchdown return helped keep Tennessee in the game when the defense struggled in the first half. His end-around at the beginning of the second half would’ve been remarkable had he been able to get back to the line of scrimmage. Instead, he completely reversed the field to slice and dice his way to 34 yards.
I know Todd McShay has fellow Vol Justin Hunter as his No. 1 wide receiver in the 2013 NFL draft, but Patterson is the man as far as I’m concerned.
I warned last week that Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell wouldn’t turn the ball over much at all. (He ended with zero turnovers.)
In order to win, Tennessee would have to play the game straight up, mano-a-mano. Tipped interceptions and fumbles simply weren’t going to happen against the Bulldogs.
What I apparently left out was that Russell would morph into a highly accurate, confident and efficient passer against the Volunteers secondary.
After completing just 55 percent of his passes against Jacksonville State, South Alabama, Kentucky and the like, Russell was on fire with 291 yards and two touchdowns with a 62 percent completion rate.
Did he step up in a big moment, or was the Tennessee secondary just that bad?
Running backs coach Jay Graham has been a major coup for Tennessee. His unit has shown steady improvement the entire season and is ranked just behind LSU at seventh in the SEC in rushing, up from 12th just a year ago.
Even without starting tailback Rajion Neal for the second half in Starkville, the Volunteers racked up 213 yards rushing against a solid Mississippi State defense.
Neal, Devrin Young, and of course, Cordarrelle Patterson came together for 155 yards behind an offensive line that is also showing good signs of improvement.
The lone mishap was Young’s terribly timed fumble after converting a first down deep in the Vols’ territory. It was a great effort by him, but a Bulldog defender slipped in just in time to pry the ball loose before Young hit the ground.
Graham is doing amazing things with good, but not great, players.
I’m growing weary of naming Derek Dooley a loser after seemingly every SEC game, but leaving him off this list would be dishonest.
In a game where the Volunteers had equal, if not better, talent than their ranked SEC opponent, Dooley missed the chance to reel in his first ranked win and first SEC win over a team not named Vanderbilt, Kentucky or Ole Miss.
Social media and message boards were lighting up with demands for Dooley’s firing almost immediately after that game. The Rock even showed its discontent.
The Vols' best-case scenario went from 8-4 to 7-5 in one fell swoop this weekend, and just like the credit ends up with one man, so does the blame.