3 takeaways from Mississippi State’s win against Arkansas
Mississippi State finished off a sweep of its 3-game homestand when it beat Arkansas, 40-17, on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium.
The Bulldogs (5-1, 2-1) raced to a 21-0 lead, saw the Razorbacks (3-3, 1-3) get as close as 10 points in the 3rd quarter, then pulled away in the 4th.
It’s a familiar script in State’s victories this season.
The bottom line is all of the Bulldogs’ victories have come by at least 18 points and their average margin of victory is 24 points.
The performance Saturday was consistent with the other victories as State is forming a clear identity as it concluded the 1st half of the season.
Here are 3 takeaways from the victory against Arkansas:
Will Rogers was really efficient
Never mind that Will Rogers had his lowest completion percentage in a victory this season (31 of 48 for 64.6 percent), he guided the offense expertly.
In the game in which he set the Southeastern Conference record for career completions, Rogers passed for 395 yards and 3 touchdowns with 0 interceptions. He connected with 11 receivers.
It was his 3rd consecutive game without an interception after he threw 1 in each of the first 3 games.
Rogers, whose only lower completion percentage came in the loss to LSU (24 of 42 for 57.1 percent), got the Bulldogs off to a fast start by throwing touchdown passes of 5 yards to Jaden Walley and 10 yards to Austin Williams to help build a 21-0 second-quarter lead.
He threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Ducking on State’s 1st possession of the 3rd quarter for a 27-10 lead as the Bulldogs turned back the 1st of 2 failed attempts by the Razorbacks to get back in the game.
Though the number of completions, yards and touchdowns were nothing special by Rogers’ standards, he consistently made the plays necessary to build and maintain a comfortable margin.
He was aided by an offensive line that did not allow a sack for the 2nd consecutive game.
Rogers benefited from excellent balance
A key reason that Rogers didn’t have to compile special numbers is the Bulldogs continued with the improved offensive balance they have shown this season. It was the best rushing performance in head coach Mike Leach’s 3 seasons.
Leach and Rogers have been content for the offense to run more this season when an opposing defense has overcommitted to defending the pass.
There’s no reason for them to be hesitant to run more because Dillon Johnson and Jo’quavious Marks and the blockers are making defenses pay.
Johnson finished with exactly 100 yards (on 17 carries) for the 1st 100-yard rushing game for a Bulldog during Leach’s tenure. Marks added 52 yards as State finished with its most rushing yards (173) for Leach.
Arkansas never slowed the passing game or the running game. State did not have a turnover, finished with 568 yards and 33 first downs and possessed the ball for 35 minutes, 41 seconds.
Defense and special teams were a mixed bag
The defense gave up just 17 points, so the bottom line was just fine.
It came up with 2 interceptions (by Jackie Matthews and Emmanuel Forbes) and even though it allowed the Razorbacks to convert 8 of 16 their 3rd downs, it stopped them 3 times on 4th-down conversion attempts.
But Arkansas was playing without injured quarterback KJ Jefferson.
The Razorbacks, despite a 11-minute-plus deficit in time of possession, gained 483 yards, including 241 on the ground. Arkansas averaged 10.5 yards for each pass play.
The Bulldogs did a good job of playing complementary football. But with road games upcoming against Kentucky and Alabama, they’ll need to tighten up defensively.
As for the special teams, it’s hard not to start with missed kicks – again. Ben Raybon missed a 40-yard field goal try and 1 extra point (out of 5 attempts). Raybon has made 4 of 6 field goals this season, but State now has missed 4 extra points.
But there was good stuff, too.
The Bulldogs downed an Archer Trafford punt at the 1-yard line in the 2nd quarter and pinned the Razorbacks at their 1 on the second-half kickoff thanks to a mishandled squib kick. Lideatrick Griffin had kickoff returns of 33 and 31 yards.
Overall it was a team performance consistent with the significant margin of victory.