Mississippi State football: 10 takeaways from the 2022 regular season
Mississippi State had itself a good regular season.
Not a great season and not as good as it might have promised early on.
But after midseason struggles – courtesy of the heart of the Southeastern Conference schedule – the Bulldogs finished strong with a perfunctory rout against East Tennessee State and an uplifting 24-22 win against Ole Miss on Thursday night in Oxford.
All in all, an 8-4 overall record and a 4-4 mark in the SEC is consistent with reasonable preseason expectations for this season.
State isn’t going to a great bowl, but presumably it’s going to a better one that it would have gone to if it had lost to the Rebels.
We’ll learn their destination next weekend, but after the Egg Bowl win we know enough to list the 10 biggest takeaways from Mississippi State’s regular season.
Kicking was better but not good enough
The Bulldogs had the worst field-goal kicking in the SEC last season.
Head coach Mike Leach brought in 2 transfers – Massimo Biscardi and Ben Raybon – in an attempt to fix the problem.
It wasn’t fixed, though it wasn’t quite as bad. State made 10 of 15 field goals, which was better percentage-wise than the 14-for-25 performance last season.
Even last year State was fine on PATs (42 for 42), but this year it’s last in the SEC (44 of 48).
Return games were important
The Bulldogs are 1 of the few teams in the country with both a kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown.
Lideatrick Griffin led the top kickoff return unit in the country and Zavion Thomas broke a punt for a touchdown against Georgia.
Both have contributed to important field-position advantages.
Running the ball made the offense better
Leach is always going to oversee 1 of the least productive running games in the country.
But this season he ran the ball more than the bare minimum, State had some success and it was helpful to the offense as a whole. The team ran the ball on roughly 30 percent of its plays, the highest percentage with Leach as coach.
The Bulldogs rushed for 162 yards against Arkansas, which is the highest such total in Leach’s tenure. The 36 attempts in that game were the 4th-highest of any of Leach’s teams in his career.
The added emphasis, such as it was, produced the 3 longest runs in Leach’s tenure – 40 yards vs. Bowling Green and 37 and 35 yards vs. LSU, which included the most 10-plus yards runs under leach (28 going into Thursday).
Going into Thursday’s game State averaged 79.3 rushing yards a game, another high point with Leach. The 97 they had in the Egg Bowl were significant.
Defense held its own thanks to takeaways
The defense played well for much of the season, though the second half against LSU, the first half against Alabama and much of the games against Auburn and Georgia weren’t great.
Much of the success the defense had came because of takeaways. State entered Thursday’s game with the 2nd-most takeaways in the SEC (20), including the most interceptions (14).
Against Ole Miss, though, the defense was outstanding on a play-in, play-out basis.
Emmanuel Forbes warrants all-SEC honors
Speaking of turnovers, Forbes led the ring of thieves.
He led the SEC with 6 interceptions, including 3 that were returned for touchdowns – giving him an FBS-record 6 for his career.
The conference and national honors should pour in for him.
Home-field advantage helped only so much
The Bulldogs finished with a 6-1 record at Davis Wade Stadium – losing only to No. 1 Georgia. It marked just the 6th time that State has won as many as 6 home games in 1 season.
But the performance on the road detracted from the home success. State finished 2-3 on the road, a number that looked better in the wake of the win at Oxford.
Bulldogs are fast starters
State started well all season, outscoring the opposition by a combined 97-27 in the first quarter. That includes a 7-6 edge against Ole Miss on Thursday.
That enabled the Bulldogs to play from ahead early in most games. But too often games turned in a different direction after a quick start.
Thursday, though, featured a good start, a good finish and a good result.
It was a nice finish
The second half of the season wasn’t going all that well, but the Bulldogs finished strong.
They were 5-1 at the midpoint then lost 3 of 4, all SEC games.
But the back-to-back wins at the end, punctuated by the Egg Bowl win, spoke well of Leach, the staff and the players – as well as the prospects for a positive bowl-game performance.
Red zone productivity
Mississippi State scored on 37 of 41 red-zone opportunities (90.2 percent) this season with 32 touchdowns.
Going into the final weekend it led the FBS in points per red-zone drive (5.19), red-zone touchdown percentage (81.08 percent) and red-zone passing touchdown percentage (59.46 percent).
Generally speaking the offense was at its best when the opportunities were the greatest.
Few players in the country are as valuable as Will Rogers
It’s been well documented how many school and SEC passing records Rogers has broken. But his value goes beyond just statistics.
His leadership, his decision-making and the confidence that his play instills in his teammates are all extremely valuable.
The list of players that are as valuable to their teams as Rogers is to State is extremely short.