UT vs. Chattanooga
Ty Chandler, #8, rushes toward the end-zone at the Chattanooga football game on Saturday, September 14, 2019.

When Tennessee football players met with the local media Tuesday, they discussed Brian Maurer’s performance and other things as they prepare for Mississippi State.

Maurer, who was making his first career start, threw for a pair of first-half touchdowns and 205 yards as the young quarterback sparked the Vols offense.

“I think he handled himself well – the ability to come in, facing the No. 3 team in the nation,” running back Ty Chandler said. “I think he handled himself well, like a professional. We’ve just got to keep having that and we’ve got to keep building off that.”

Jeremy Pruitt didn’t fully commit to Brian Maurer starting again Saturday, but the Vols’ head coach said it would take a bad week of practice for Maurer not to start.

What game plan offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will roll out for Maurer Saturday is yet to be seen, but the Vols looked to push the ball downfield to their best playmakers, Jauan Jennings and Marquez Calloway, frequently against Georgia.

“Jauan and Marquez are the best duo I’ve ever seen,” freshman left tackle Wanya Morris said. “They keep the energy up at practice, games, workouts and you can always count on them to keep your head up.”

Tennessee enters Saturday’s matchup with Mississippi State as 6.5-point underdogs, but victory is possible for the Vols and a big opportunity.

“This game is very critical,” Chandler said. “It’s another big game in Neyland at (noon). So, we’ve got to come out ready to play. We’ve got to come out ready to play and just ready to get the ball rolling. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it. We’re facing a good Mississippi State team.”

It is unclear who Mississippi State will start at quarterback Saturday. Tommy Stevens and Garrett Shrader have both played significant snaps for the Bulldogs this season and the possibility of both playing represents a unique challenge.

“I feel like we’re just accounting for both of their talents,” defensive back Theo Jackson said. “We’re just going to have to keep them both contained as best as we can, and just get pressure on them.”

Tennessee’s defense played better at times against Georgia as the secondary got an added boost with Bryce Thompson improving significantly in his second game back from suspension.

“I’ve seen a lot of development from him,” Jackson said of Thompson. “He’s definitely matured a lot since that last incident, and I’m liking what I’m seeing.”

The stats didn’t look great for the Vols’ secondary last Saturday, but the unit played better than the numbers looked. Tennessee got no pass rush against Georgia, giving Jake Fromm all day to throw.

“I think the pass rush helps us a lot,” senior safety Nigel Warrior said. “What our coaches always say is: ‘A good pass rush is a good back-end defense and a good back-end defense is a good pass rush.’ I think the pass rush helps us out a lot. It helps us break down from running around a lot.”

Tennessee will meet Mississippi State at noon ET Saturday at Neyland Stadium. The game will be broadcasted on SEC Network.

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