Mississippi State football: Bulldogs correct defense, ride return game in win
No one could possibly confuse North Carolina State’s lone touchdown with an actual comeback attempt after Mississippi State carried the SEC banner to a 24-10 victory at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday night.
In a broadcast that featured poor audio mixing and Mike Golic Jr. still easing his way into a role in the ESPN booth (I thought he did very well), the Bulldogs’ defense shone brightest.
Mississippi State dominated N.C. State in all three phases. On defense, the Bulldogs earned three turnovers. On special teams, the Bulldogs made the only field goal they attempted while the Wolfpack missed one of their two attempts.
In perhaps the most important play of the game, the Bulldogs defense stayed home on a Tim Tebow-esque jump pass attempt in the end zone to force an interception.
As predicted, crowds are having an immense impact early in the 2021 college football schedule. The jump pass play call from N.C. State screamed of a team out-thinking itself. It felt like the moment was too big for head coach Dave Doeren and his squad. Chalk that up to the noise at Davis Wade Stadium.
The decision was questionable but the execution by the MSU defenders was really the key. They didn’t get aggressive, they did their jobs, and they made the play as a unit.
That theme held true throughout the entire game. MSU defenders stayed true to their assignments, made tackles, and mostly refrained from harmful penalties.
Golic Jr. made the point toward the end of the broadcast that the defensive breakdowns we saw against Louisiana Tech in Week 1 were not systemic. To paraphrase, Golic Jr. said that the breakdowns were single-play breakdowns, but they lead to huge plays. This indicates that the scheme is fine, but that execution and discipline are key.
For the second time in as many weeks, the Bulldogs owe their spark to wide receiver and kick return specialist Lideatrick Griffin. With the Bulldogs trailing by three scores in Week 1, Griffin made a huge return to give the Bulldogs a short field, leading to a touchdown three plays later.
This week, all he did was house the opening kickoff 100 yards in front of a lit-up crowd.
That first touchdown set the table for the defense with the full din of the cowbells behind them.
After surrendering a field goal in the second quarter, the MSU defense didn’t allow a score until garbage time when the game was essentially done.
Griffin’s ability to return this well is going to be an open secret and it seems likely that by the time SEC play rolls around, teams will begin avoiding him.
As for the offense, Bulldogs fans would be wise to temper expectations. I am certainly no college football film analyst; however, it seems to me that MSU quarterback Will Rogers made more wise and conservative decisions in this game than he did in Week 1. It felt like he had a far tighter grasp on the game this week than he has in my entire time watching him.
Rogers completed 33 passes on 49 attempts this week compared with 39 for 47 last week.
However, NC State is a fine defensive unit and they showed it by limiting the deep threats throughout. Despite losing their cornerstone defender, All-ACC linebacker Payton Wilson, before halftime to a shoulder injury, the Wolfpack played well and made the Bulldogs earn it.
By making smart passes and limiting risk, Rogers put his playmakers in a good position and showed trust in his defense. From where I sit, that kind of team-first execution is good quarterback play. Plus, the MSU offense never turned the ball over against the Wolfpack.
The next step offensively is finding more ways to get guys open down the field.
Overall, it felt like a surprise to all of college football that MSU won and did it so convincingly. After all, the Wolfpack was favored by a field goal. The next step for head coach Mike Leach and MSU will be for wins like this to not surprise anyone. But, one step at a time. Memphis awaits this week, followed by a much bigger Tigers team the following weekend — LSU.