Why MSU's comeback win might have been better than a blowout
Mississippi State’s home opener might be the first moral victory to come within an actual victory that I can remember.
Typically, those come after a hard-fought loss to a far better team.
After allowing some 30 straight points, MSU outscored La. Tech 21-3 in the fourth quarter to cap off the biggest comeback victory in program history.
Coach Mike Leach made some jokes about dental appointments and study halls following the comeback victory, but he also pointed out the issues that MSU had en route to a 20-point deficit.
Leach said that his squad panicked and tried to make too much happen.
This was particularly evident on a play in the third quarter that, at the time, appeared to be a back-breaker. Mississippi State QB Will Rogers made a few reads and, as the pass rush was closing in, threw to a check-down option in the flat. However, RB Jo’quavious Marks was well-covered by linebacker Trey Baldwin.
Baldwin read Rogers, jumped the route, and housed the football to extend La. Tech’s lead to 31-14.
The pick-6 happened on first down with nearly 17 minutes left in the game and MSU trailing by only 10.
Rogers either missed a read, didn’t see Baldwin covering Marks, or thought he could get the ball into that window. Regardless, throwing the ball away was the best option.
Being down 10 with a full quarter to play cannot illicit panicked play by anyone.
Despite what felt like a disaster happening in slow motion, MSU relaxed, made some basic plays and found their way back in the game.
The spark came from Lideatrick Griffin. After extending the lead to 34-14, Griffin, a sophomore wide receiver, returned a Ceasar Barajas kickoff to the La. Tech 21-yard line. Three plays later, MSU trailed by only 13 with about 12 minutes left to play.
When the dust settled, MSU got the victory and they did it by not trying to get it all back at once. The defense made stops, the offense took what the defense gave them, and Will Rogers made some good throws.
That comeback can only serve to bond the group and lay bricks for the foundation of culture moving forward. That can build trust between teammates, trust between players and coaches, and trust in themselves. While that is important, MSU has plenty to clean up.
They lost the turnover battle 4-2. They allowed 6 yards per play and 4 yards per rush. They converted just 25% of third downs. They missed a ton of tackles.
Leach said afterward that the middle of the game, the second and third quarter, was as bad as a team can play on all sides of the ball.
After one game we learned that Rogers is the quarterback, that this team fights for each other, and that they need to improve on the fundamentals of football. My take: fundamentals can be taught, but passion cannot.
Mississippi State hosts NC State this weekend in the biggest nonconference game for both squads. The Wolfpack are coming off a very comfortable win over South Florida last Thursday and are favored over the Bulldogs by a field goal.
Trailing the Wolfpack by three touchdowns and trying to rally again is not advised.