During the football season of 2022, quarterback Mike Wright was team captain at Vanderbilt. He contributed in a major way to Vandy’s surprising wins over Florida and Kentucky. Yet, the following December, Wright entered the transfer portal. Then in January, he committed to Mississippi State. Fast forward to the present and we have Bulldog fans looking for Mr. Wright. As the Dawgs were being blown out by LSU,“We want Mike” was the chant heard during that game. The fans were merely having a knee-jerk reaction, fearful that they wouldn’t have another nine-win or better season. Against LSU, the incumbent signal-caller, Will Rogers, was having a less-than-stellar performance, to say the least. In fact, it was the worst of his career.
Following that blowout, head coach Zach Arnett was asked for his reaction to those chants. He said, “We’re not spending a lot of time paying attention to chants from the student section.” However, here we are prior to the next game against South Carolina wondering what Arnett and offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay are going to do. Perhaps Mr. Wright is the solution? At this point, an answer to that question would simply be rhetorical. While we wait, perhaps a look at the source of the fans’ demand would be in order.
Who is Mike Wright?
Wright was a heavily sought-after high school recruit from Fayetteville, GA. But the colleges recruiting him weren’t your typical Power Five schools. These were brain trusts like Boston College, Northwestern, and Vanderbilt. He chose Vandy, quite a challenging school academically. Maybe the 6-4, 195-pound senior likes a challenge. He has certainly met it and then some. In the school year 2020-2021, Wright made the first-year SEC Academic Honor Roll. Likewise in 2022-2023, he is on the same Honor Roll.
As far as football is concerned, maybe Wright was looking for a similar challenge. One typically enters the transfer portal looking for schools that need help, and where one might be a starter. But State already had a well-established starter in Rogers. What could prompt Wright to choose the Bulldogs?
In an interview with Chris Gordy of Locked On SEC, Wright said he spent a lot of time getting to know the coaches. “It was just building my relationship with Coach Barbay and Coach Arnett you know throughout the time,” Wright said. “You know everybody always says, ‘I mean you’ve got to come to Stark Vegas.’ Like once you get there, there’s just a different Aura, there’s a different feeling, and so for me combined with the relationship I built with those two great guys and the offensive Vision.”
Where There’s a Will There’s Competition
Wright came into a situation where there was already an established starter at quarterback. In addition, Rogers was outstanding at the position, setting all kinds of passing records. By comparison, Wright had 1,041 yards in 2021 and 974 in 2022. Rogers threw for 4,738 yards and 3,974 in those same years respectively. How was Wright going to compete with that?
In the Spring game, Mississippi State fans would see how. Wright provided a component that Rogers didn’t have. He brought a run game; a direction college and the NFL football have been heading at the position of quarterback.
So, was there actually competition going on? Wright developed quite a good relationship with Rogers, something that would be necessary for this offense to work. Wright had this to say about their relationship. “Everybody always assumes like, all right you got two figurehead leaders. Are they gonna be bucking heads,” Wright said. “I mean my relationship with Will is amazing. I mean we’ve known each other since we got to college. You know, we played Mississippi State at Vanderbilt twice and then we’re both together at the Manning Passing Academy. So, you know whenever you walk into a room with a guy you already have a relationship with, it makes it so much easier and then you know my role is always just to help the team win, however you know, however much I can.
All About That Offense
Barbay seemed to have a scheme in mind that would take advantage of both strengths. That would be an offense tapping into Rogers’ extraordinary passing game and Wright’s running ability. In his college career, Wright has 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
Barbay showcased this in the opener with Southeastern Louisiana. He trotted out what appeared to be a wildcat formation. Wright took the quarterback position and Rogers split wide left. In this game, it worked to the excitement of the fans who saw a different offense than they had been used to. It was certainly a departure from head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid.
Wright ran this formation five times, and he rushed for 95 yards in the game. One of the runs was for 53 yards, setting up a Bulldog touchdown from the SELA 14.
However, this combination has not been tapped in the last two games with Arizona or LSU. In the Arizona game, Wright ran once for a negative three yards. Against the Tigers, he threw once for four yards resulting in a touchdown, and ran once for five yards. The four-yard touchdown pass was late in the fourth quarter, and defeat was imminent.
This gets us back to the student section chant and the Bulldogs looking for Mr. Wright. The fans are frustrated with the fact that this combination worked before, so why not now?
Anticipation is Thick
Whether Barbay takes advantage of his quarterbacks’ strengths against South Carolina is yet to be seen. The Dawg fans are waiting with great anticipation. More than likely, Rogers will start the game, and for the sake of the fans’ mental health, they need him to bring his A game.
Wright is a very articulate, intelligent player, and State can be proud that he chose Starkville as his home. He said that he was looking for “a place that fits Mike Wright.” He sees his role as one that just makes the team win.
As he told Mississippi State’s Logan Lowery, Assistant Director/Communications, “One of the reasons I was so passionate to sign with State was that I wanted to be a part of a program that’s continuing to build in coach Arnett’s first year,” Wright said. “Working with Rogers is going to be fun. We’re here to win ballgames, that’s our main job as a quarterback and as leaders of this team. We’re going to learn this system like the back of our hands and find every way possible to help this team win.” The State fans desperately want that too!
Mississippi State is in Columbia, SC for their game with South Carolina. Kickoff is at 7:30 pm ET. It can be seen on the SEC Network.
Photo courtesy: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports