The teams meeting in the 2020 Armed Forces Bowl could not be more different.

Mississippi State enters the game with Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack ready to throw the ball each and every way possible. Tulsa responds with a defense that has held opponents to 20.8 points per game this season, good for 23rd in the FBS.

 

The teams have also taken different routes to the game. The Golden Hurricane finished 6-2, their only losses coming at Oklahoma State and to undefeated Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference title game. The Bulldogs, in Leach’s first season, started the season on fire with a record-setting win against LSU at Baton Rouge but came back to reality quickly, finishing 3-7 but showing some promise at the end of the campaign.

Will Rogers has become the man at quarterback for State after throwing for 7 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions in the last 3 games and he leads a Bulldogs team that relies on more freshmen than usual, including Jaden Walley, Emmanuel Forbes and Charles Cross, all earning spots on the SEC All-Freshman Team.

“We’re excited about it,” Leach said. “We’re excited that the young guys got the recognition they did, and there were some others that I think would be very close.”

One of those guys Leach is referring to is Rogers, who will face a tough defense, but won’t have to face All-American linebacker Zaven Collins, who won the Nagurski Award given to the nation’s top defensive player. Collins opted out to begin preparing for the NFL Draft.

Tulsa has allowed just 194.8 passing yards per game, recorded 19 sacks in 8 games and will make life difficult for Rogers and the State passing game for all 60 minutes.

The same can be said for State’s defense against Tulsa’s offense. While the offense was struggling to adapt to Leach’s system, the Bulldogs’ defense stood tall, holding opponents to just 380.3 yards per game. They are especially good in the run game, ranking 21st in the FBS by giving up 125.30 rushing yards per game.

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With the teams so evenly matched on paper, it might come down to talent and motivation. State has the talent advantage over Philip Montgomery’s team but after such a weird season with so many opt-outs and the mere total of losses, how bad do the Bulldogs want to fight against a team that will give its all for a victory over an SEC team, especially without its best player?

It will also come down to offense and if Rogers can keep the momentum going after a strong ending to the season. He will have to be patient against a defense that doesn’t give a lot and not commit the turnovers that plagued his first few collegiate appearances. The Mississippi State wide receivers — Osirus Mitchell, Jaden Walley, etc. — will also have to find room against this strong Tulsa secondary.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to motivation. For Mississippi State, it is just another game. For the Golden Hurricane, it is a chance to put a stamp on another great season.

FEARLESS PREDICTION: Tulsa 27, Mississippi State 24