Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt said true freshman quarterback Brian Maurer will officially make his second consecutive start at Noon on Saturday when Mississippi State travels to Neyland Stadium for the first time since 2008.  

“Maurer is a guy that for the second week in a row we have catered the package around him to see what he does well,” Pruitt said. “I think the longer you do something, the better you get at it. To me, what I see is a guy that seems to have a little more command.”

The Vols practiced in shells and shorts on Wednesday at Haslam Field in an effort to keep the team fresh with a Noon kick coming after last weekend’s night game.

“I felt like with a Noon kickoff, we needed to get our legs back under us a little bit,” Pruitt said. “Our guys are continuing to work hard. We have some guys that are a coming back from some injuries that are a little banged up that are out there, which is good to see. It seems like we’ve had really spirited practices and good competition between each other.”

Maurer had an outstanding first half in his first-ever collegiate start against No. 3 Georgia, throwing for 205 yards and two touchdowns before halftime as Tennessee held the lead until the two-minute mark in the second quarter. He finished with 259 yards on 14-of-28 passing with the two first-half scores and an interception. His passing mark was the second-most ever by a UT true freshman in his first start.

Still, Pruitt hopes to establish the run game to ease the load on his rookie passer. Tennessee’s running back got an added boost when junior Tim Jordan had his best game of the season against Georgia as he returned to form following an ankle injury. Jordan finished with a team-high 47 yards against the Bulldogs and he combines with leading rusher Ty Chandler (64 ypg) and versatile freshman Eric Gray to give the Vols a much-improved rushing attack this season.

“One guy that has really stuck out to me in the last week with how he’s played and how he’s competed, really going all the way back to the Auburn game (last season), is Tim Jordan,” Pruitt said. “When he’s gotten his opportunities, he’s continued to work hard, play good on special teams and it’s been good to see him out there getting it going. Tim’s a guy that really likes ball and has been a really good practice player for us.”

Jordan has rushed for 686 yards and three scores over his three-year career, including a standout 118-yard performance against West Virginia to open the 2018 season. Jordan, Chandler, Gray and senior Carlin Fils-aime will look to get the offense rolling on the ground against a Mississippi State defense that ranks No. 11 in the SEC against the rush, allowing 158.0 yards per game.

“They’re always tough to block,” Pruitt said. “They’re big, strong and physical guys and we have to figure out a way to create some explosive plays. We can’t turn the ball over and when we get in the red area we have to score some touchdowns.”

Overall, the Mississippi State defense, coordinated by former Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, ranks 13th in the league in total defense, giving up 401.4 yards per game. Shoop’s Mississippi State defense ranked No. 1 in the country in 2018 (263.1 yards per game), but the Bulldogs lost several top players to the NFL and have had several veterans miss games due to suspension this fall.