Mississippi State football: Fast start enough but offense still ineffective
Mississippi State’s 24-17 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday started out much like I imagine Mike Leach wanted.
After intercepting Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals, the Bulldogs took advantage of great field position and took just five plays to score. A nice back-shoulder pass from true freshman Will Rogers, earning his first start, to Osirus Mitchell put Mississippi State up 7-0 early over the visiting Commodores.
The next drive was even better. After Vanderbilt missed a field goal, Rogers led the Bulldogs quickly down the field on a 11-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Dillon Johnson. It was 14-0 with 2:23 left in the first quarter and the Bulldogs had almost scored half as many points had they achieved in the last four games combined. Honestly, it looked like the rout was on.
The next drive did nothing to dispel that. MSU went 48 yards in 11 plays. A 25-yard field goal from Brandon Ruiz put Mike Leach’s team up 17-0. The Air Raid was back, right?
Not even close.
After putting up 143 yards and 17 points in their first three drives, the Bulldogs put up just 43 total yards and 0 points on their next 7 possessions, two of which ended in negative yardage. And this was coming against a Vanderbilt defense that came into the game as one of the worst in total defense in all of FBS. Rushing? What rushing attack? The Bulldogs finished with minus-22 yards on the ground.
So what were the problems? Well, you can start with the fact that, after three drives, the Commodores caught on to the short passes that made the Bulldogs so effective. In the first half, Rogers’ longest completion was 16 yards, and that came on a third-and-long with Vanderbilt sitting back. When Vanderbilt didn’t drop 8 men like defenses have been doing routinely since Arkansas shut down Leach’s offense in Week 2 of the season, Rogers wasn’t accurate. It felt as if he was comfortable doing anything but throwing for more than 10 yards down the field.
To his credit, Rogers was safe with the ball. He completed 35-of-46 passes with no interceptions but averaged just 6.45 yards per completion. Leach’s offense gained just 208 total yards against the Commodores. This isn’t exactly the numbers that will put fear into SEC defenses.
Yet it was a game that the freshman quarterback and possibly the entire Bulldogs program needed. Not until a timely fumble and recovery by Tyrus Wheat and a short touchdown run by Jo’quavious Marks to put State up by 10 points could they feel comfortable, but it was a win.
Now come much bigger tests for Rogers and company and it starts against an Auburn defense led by Kevin Steele this Saturday. Following that is a game at Georgia.
Rogers has earned the right to be the starter but the playbook must be more open for him to succeed. It seemed that Leach and the Bulldogs offense went extremely conservative after a fast start that gave them a 17-point cushion. They won’t have that advantage over the next two weeks and will have to trust Rogers, either do or die, to put up big numbers and points on the board.
The win over the Commodores was a start for this Bulldogs offense. They still have a long way to go.