Rapid Reaction: Mississippi State falls short at Memphis in game marred by officiating
In a game that will be remembered for its officiating blunders, Mississippi State lost a 10-point halftime lead thanks to at least 3 questionable officiating calls or non-calls in a 31-29 loss at Memphis.
Memphis scored on a 94-yard punt return in the fourth quarter by Calvin Austin III, his third touchdown of the second half.
It appeared that 2 Mississippi State players downed the ball inside the 10-yard line, and a nearby official tossed a bean bag to signal that the ball was down. However, Austin scooped it up, and weaved down the sideline to score and give the Tigers a huge momentum swing, 21 unanswered points. It appeared that the Bulldogs may have illegally touched the ball on the play.
Then MSU looked to recover an onside kick, but was flagged for touching the ball before 10 yards, and then after the play was reviewed, called for an illegal block. However, the Bulldogs weren’t done yet. Will Rogers found Makai Polk for a 36-yard touchdown with 1:32 remaining, but Rogers fell short on the 2-point try.
In a seemingly dominating performance from a ball control standpoint, State got off to a 17-7 lead at halftime. Without the familiar cowbells in the Liberty Bowl, the Bulldogs had their final contest before SEC play next week. The Bulldogs play host to LSU next week.
Memphis grabbed the lead with 7:48 left in the fourth quarter, its first lead since the first quarter. Then the wild play happened when State punted the ball with less than 6 minutes remaining and appeared to down the ball inside the 10-yard line. Austin’s score gave the Tigers 21 unanswered points. The play was not reviewed even though the official threw his bean bag.
On the ensuing kickoff, State then looked to recover an onside kick, but the officials flagged the Bulldogs, and the play was confirmed after a review.
State had a heavy advantage in time of possession all game, and it was helped by a hot third down conversion rate, which started at 7-for-9. But they stumbled at times, and during a stretch in the third quarter, State had 23 yards on the previous 17 plays. For all the defense did, the offense didn’t do a lot to separate itself.
Case in point was Rogers misfiring on a seemingly wide open Polk early in the fourth quarter.
State had long scoring drives in the first half, such as 9 plays for 81 yards, 10 plays for 75 yards, and an eye-popping 17 players for 54 yards. Of course, all that had to overcome an early 49-yard fumble recovery by Memphis less than 3 minutes into the game.
Rogers entered the Memphis game leading the nation in completions per game and ranking fifth in the FBS in completion percentage. It helps that he has plenty of time and protection. Left tackle Charles Cross is the reigning SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week, and the State front is coming off an N.C. State win where it only allowed 1 sack.
But it wasn’t all offense. By the play of the defense much of the game, you would have never known that Memphis came into Saturday’s game leading the country in total offense.
The Tigers didn’t reach the red zone until 6:30 left in the third quarter as they started the game 1-for-7 on third down, and 0-for-2 on fourth down. By that point, they only had 57 rushing yards. But that was in the middle of an impressive 12-play drive that covered 98 yards and ended on a Calvin Austin III catch from Seth Henigan.
Still, State continued its impressive start in the turnover department with an interception by Emmanuel Forbes in the third quarter. The Bulldogs came into the game with the No. 9 pass coverage grade and No. 11 run defense grade in all of FBS. MSU had already forced 5 turnovers this season before Memphis.