It was a day of record-breaking for Mississippi State Saturday night. Even though it was a loss to South Carolina, 37-30, Mississippi State’s offense showed up in the way fans expected from the beginning. The Bulldogs and Gamecocks game was an offensive battle, with State catching up and tying the game twice. Evidently, quarterback Will Rogers took note of last week’s dismal performance against LSU. Against the Gamecocks, the Dawgs tallied 519 total yards and Rogers passed for 487 of those. That moved him up to third in SEC career passing yardage with 11,668. He leapfrogged Peyton Manning, David Greene, and Chris Leak to get there. He connected on 30 for 48 attempts.
Not to be outdone, the Gamecocks’ quarterback, Spencer Rattler, went 18 for 20 and 288 yards. The yardage is not all that unusual but his completion-for-attempts stat puts him at 90%. That is a completion percentage thrown by the likes of Alabama’s Bryce Young last season.
The most telling tale of the night was the lack of defense on the Bulldog side of the ball. The first two opening Carolina drives went 98 and 99 yards for scores. Despite the efforts of MSU punters Andrew Osteen and Keenan Crimmins, the defense could not keep the birds out of the endzone. They, and the Dawgs’ special teams, placed the ball on the South Carolina two and one-yard line, respectively.
Tulu Predictions Realized
Lideatrick “Tulu” Griffin finally broke out of the kick-return-specialist mold. He started living up to the wide receiver potential all had hoped for. He and Rogers were on the same page at last. This was something that was seen coming back in the Spring game.
His first 65-yard catch was the knife that started cutting down the 14-point lead Rattler had carved out for his team in their first two drives. That catch was his longest of the season. By the end of the night, Griffin had racked up 256 yards through the air. That set a school record for receiving yards in a single game.
The Rogers – Rattler Factor
Rogers and Rattler put on a seesaw battle in the scoring department. Rattler started things off on their very first drive, hitting wide receiver Xavier Legette for 76 yards and a touchdown. The pair would repeat that feat opening up on the very first play from scrimmage of the second half. Legette received a 75-yard pass from Rattler for another score. Legette would finish the night with five catches totaling 189 yards.
Rogers came back swinging for the fence, however, hitting Griffin for that 65-yard catch. He eventually tied up the game more than once. He matched the Gamecocks’ 14 points of the first half with 14 of his own, skillfully leading the Bulldogs down the field. Then, again in the third period, getting his team within three, so that place kicker Kyle Ferrie could tie it up 27-27.
But, no matter how close they got, Rogers could not surpass Carolina’s offensive onslaught.
Of special note is the fact that Rogers was like two different players from the quarterback that sputtered against LSU. Although they ended up on the wrong end of this game’s score, Rogers seems to have grasped State’s offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay’s new offense. Yes, it was still weighted heavily in the passing game, much like Mike Leach’s Air Raid where Rogers grew up. But it is still Barbay’s scheme and plays to call. Rogers’ obvious comfort level in this game is something Bulldog fans can feel good about. This is especially true as the team heads into more hostile conference play. Dawg fans are an optimistic and faithful bunch, after all.
They Also Served
Barbay did play Mike Wright a little more than in the previous three games. In fact, he scored his first touchdown as a Bulldog on a one-yard run.
In the kicking game, true freshman Kyle Ferrie was 100% in the field goal department. He also hit his career-long of 49 yards as the buzzer sounded ending the first half. Ferrie got a do-over on that one, as his first attempt fell short. But, a 5-yard Gamecock penalty, got it five yards closer and he hit the mark.
So, Where was the Defense?
Dawgs’ head coach Zach Arnett was the defensive coordinator for the previous three years. That fact alone might lead one to think they would be the feared defensive team of old. The game in Columbia Saturday night left much to be desired on that front, mainly in the passing game. Going into this season, the secondary was the biggest question mark. Some veterans exited through the transfer portal, while their best safety, Emmanuel Forbes, went in the first round of the NFL draft.
But the defensive line is made up of a majority of veterans. Two of the linebacking crew led the SEC in tackles last season. That would be Jett Johnson and Bookie Watson. Johnson kept up his end of the bargain continuing his stellar play with 14 tackles, seven solo, one sack, and one tackle for a loss. In a post-game press conference, he had this to say about the way the defense performed. “We pride ourselves on being a defensive school,” Johnson said. “Hard-nosed defense and just tough. We’ve got to get back to that identity through the air and in the run game.”
Arnett said prior to the season’s start that he was not going to do the play-calling on defense. That job was delegated to new defensive coordinator Matt Brock. He was the linebacker coach under Arnett during the Leach years. Still, some of the defensive play-calling during the LSU game left more questions than answers. The Tigers and the Rattler air attack, in some cases, might’ve required double coverage for instance. Yet, the corner and safeties were consistently smoked for huge gains and touchdowns in both games. Perhaps Arnett would consider taking the reins for one game until Brock’s training wheels can come off.
Who’s Next on the Menu?
The Bulldogs return home to Davis-Wade Stadium Saturday to face age-old down-the-road rivals Alabama. The question is, what kind of Mississippi State team will show up? We’ve already seen what happened playing nationally-ranked LSU. The Tide has finally identified a starting quarterback in Jalen Milroe. They’re coming off a confidence-building game at Ole Miss with Nick Saban teaching his student, Lane Kiffen, yet another lesson.
But, the Dawgs are back at home, cowbells ringing in their welcome. As in a few years before, a nationally ranked Crimson Tide has fallen to State when playing in Starkville. Could an over-confident Alabama come into town to a newly-confident Bulldog offense? Maybe the defense will show up too. Now, that’s a party!
The game is a 9:00 pm ET start and viewable on ESPN. We’ll have a preview coming out shortly to examine what the Tide will be bringing onto Scott Field.