In a record-setting performance from the quarterback, and a jaw-dropping performance from the defense, the Mississippi State Bulldogs improved to 5-3 on the season on Saturday with a 31-17 upset win over No. 12 Kentucky.

I called this game the biggest game of the year (other than that one at the end of the year, obviously), and I now call this win the biggest win of the year for MSU.

The Bulldogs rode four turnovers to the victory. They had 3 interceptions and a fumble by Chris Rodgriguez Jr., which came gift wrapped to MSU linebacker Jett Johnson. Also, the Bulldogs adjusted their game plan a bit midway through the second quarter when they started calling a few more run plays.

Bulldogs running backs combined for 31 carries for a total of 99 yards and 3 touchdowns. Despite the low yards-per-carry average, that willingness to call runs softened the defense enough for the Air Raid offense to work.

Quarterback Will Rogers II had a record-breaking performance, completing 36 of 39 passes for 344 yards with zero interceptions. That kind of offensive efficiency and patience is remarkable. This adjustment on the fly is excellent to see from a Mike Leach-coached team.

Rogers broke the SEC single-game record for completion percentage (92%) for any game with at least 30 attempts. The sophomore also broke the program record for completions in a single season, previously held by Dak Prescott. Not bad.

Rogers has shown almost predictable week-to-week improvement in his decision-making and decisiveness. In the game against Kentucky his most impressive play, I thought, was on his lone touchdown pass.

On the play, Rogers threw a high 50-50 ball to the end zone with a sideline fade. Rara Thomas recognized the pass, leaped and came down with the 25-yard score. What was impressive to me was the Rogers saw the coverage, which was good, and recognized that his guy was looking for the ball and that he could make the individual play.

That’s the kind of trust in receivers that Rogers hadn’t quite developed in this season’s loss to Memphis. Now, he’s in complete control of the offense.

Offensive efficiency aside, the game ball goes to the defense, which has been the most underrated unit in the SEC all year. The 17 points allowed is deceiving. Seven of those points came on a punt return for a touchdown, meaning that the Bulldogs defense didn’t allow Kentucky into the end zone until the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs held the Wildcats to just 216 yards of offense. That’s absurd, especially against the no. 12 team in the country. That was 27 fewer yards than the Wildcats mustered against the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs in a 30-13 defeat on Oct. 16.

The turnovers, generated by Johnson, Shawn Preston, Jalen Green and Cameron Young, came at timely moments as well. Perhaps the most important came on the MSU 1-yard line in the closing seconds of the first half. Kentucky trailed 14-10 and the Wildcats were deep inside MSU territory at the 14-yard line. Will Levis forced a throw into bad coverage and Green came down with it. So the Wildcats came away with no points.

We now see, with certainty, the capabilities of this Bulldogs team. When the lights are bright and there’s a lot at stake, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’re among the 25 best teams in the country.

With games against Ole Miss, Auburn, and Arkansas coming, this win feels huge. Not just because it moves the Bulldogs one win away from bowl eligibility, but simply because it was a big game against another good team.

There’s no doubt that Leach’s tenure is off to a great start. The sky is certainly not the limit in 2021, but the program’s trajectory is headed straight upward.