Dec 31, 2020; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Tulsa Golden Hurricane wide receiver Josh Johnson (13) is tackled by Mississippi State Bulldogs cornerback Emmanuel Forbes (13) during the first half at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State edges No. 24 Tulsa in Armed Forces Bowl

Will Rogers threw one touchdown pass and ran for a score as Mississippi State held off No. 24 Tulsa 28-26 in a rainy Armed Forces Bowl on Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas.

Emmanuel Forbes had a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown and Lideatrick Griffin, who caught Rogers’ touchdown pass, contributed 138 kickoff return yards to help the Bulldogs (4-7) overcome a sluggish offensive performance that produced just 270 yards.

Zach Smith passed for 347 yards and a touchdown, but threw two crucial interceptions for the Golden Hurricane (6-3).

The contest was marred by an ugly postgame brawl in which punches and kicks were plentiful.

The Tulsa defense held down the Mississippi State offense even without linebacker Zaven Collins, the Nagurski Award winner as the top defensive player in the country who opted out to focus on the NFL Draft.

The Bulldogs led 7-6 at halftime and Rogers scrambled 13 yards for a touchdown that gave Mississippi State a 14-6 lead.

Deneric Prince answered on the next possession with a 13-yard touchdown run for Tulsa.

The Golden Hurricane was poised to take their first lead of the game, but Forbes made his pick-six against Smith for a 21-13 Mississippi State lead at the end of the third quarter.

A botched punt by Mississippi State gave Tulsa a first down at the Bulldogs’ 32-yard line and nine plays later Corey Taylor II ran 5 yards for a touchdown. A two-point pass went incomplete, leaving MSU with a 21-19 lead with 12:30 remaining.

Rogers threw a 13-yard touchdown to Griffin to increase the lead to 28-19 with 8:01 left.

Smith drove the Golden Hurricane to the Bulldogs’ 6, but was intercepted by Tyrus Wheat before directing Tulsa to his 15-yard touchdown pass to Keylon Stokes with 1:23 left. Stokes had nine catches for 117 yards.

Griffin returned the opening kickoff 53 yards to the Tulsa 39-yard line.

Three plays later Jo’Quavious Marks ran 28 yards for a 7-0 Bulldogs lead that lasted through the end of the first quarter.

Zack Long made field goals of 27 and 33 yards to pull the Golden Hurricane within 7-6 at halftime.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) makes a pass against the Missouri Tigers during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Miss. State ends skid, season with win over Mizzou

Will Rogers passed for 295 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Mississippi State Bulldogs past the visiting Missouri Tigers 51-32 on Saturday.

Jaden Walley caught five passes for 129 yards and a touchdown for the Bulldogs (3-7, 3-3 SEC), who snapped a three-game losing streak.

Larry Rountree III rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns for the Tigers (5-5, 5-5), who lost their second straight game. Connor Bazelak passed for 225 yards and two touchdowns, but the Bulldogs intercepted him three times.

Mississippi State lost middle linebacker Erroll Thompson to a targeting call on the game’s second play from scrimmage. That penalty propelled the Tigers to a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by Rountree’s 18-yard scoring run.

The Bulldogs tied the game 7-7 after Tigers punt returner Cade Musser muffed a fair catch attempt at the Missouri 11-yard line and long snapper Paul Blackwell recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.

Mississippi State used a 62-yard scoring drive to take a 14-7 lead. Rogers completed a 32-yard pass to Walley and later found him on a 7-yard TD pass.

Brandon Ruiz’s 40-yard field goal pushed the Bulldogs lead to 17-7. The Tigers got those points back with 33-yard field goal from Harrison Mevis.

The Bulldogs pushed their lead to 24-10 with Rogers completing all five pass attempts on the scoring drive, including a 37-yarder to Walley and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Osirus Mitchell.

Ruiz’s 43-yard field goal put the Mississippi State up 27-10 at the half.

Mississippi State kept coming in the second half, opening with another 75-yard scoring drive to expand its lead to 34-10. This time Jo’Quavious Marks finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.

After Rogers fumbled the ball on the on the Mississippi State 14-yard line, Bazelak converted the turnover with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Keke Chism. Bazelak’s 2-point conversion pass to Chism cut the Mississippi State lead to 34-18.

Mississippi State expanded its lead to 41-18 as Rogers hit Brad Cumbest with a 10-yard touchdown pass.

Ruiz made it 44-18 with a 35-yard field goal. The Tigers countered with a 75-yard drive capped by Rountree’s 6-yard TD run to reduce their deficit to 44-25.

Emmanuel Forbes’ interception and 29-yard touchdown return pushed the Bulldogs up 51-25.

Shawn Robinson, who started the season as Missouri’s quarterback, picked off a pass as a fill-in safety. That led to Bazelak’s 24-yard TD pass to Niko Hea.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA;  Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) makes a pass against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Nix, Auburn defeat host Mississippi State

Bo Nix ran for a touchdown and passed for another and Anders Carlson kicked three field goals as Auburn defeated Mississippi State 24-10 in an SEC game Saturday night in Starkville, Miss.

Nix’s touchdowns came in the fourth quarter after neither team produced a touchdown through the first three quarters. He completed 15 of 32 for just 125 yards, but Tank Bigsby rushed 26 times for 192 yards.

The Tigers (6-4) had two interceptions of freshman Will Rogers, who completed 30 of 51 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown. Mississippi State fell to 2-7 heading into its season finale against Missouri next week.

Auburn led 6-3 at halftime, but Mississippi State threatened to score on the first possession of the third quarter. The Bulldogs drove 53 yards, but Brandon Ruiz missed a 40-yard field goal.

On the Bulldogs’ next possession, Smoke Monday intercepted Rogers and returned the ball 31 yards to the Mississippi State 38. That set up Carlson’s 45-yard field goal, giving the Tigers a 9-3 lead with 4:28 left in the third quarter.

When Auburn finally put together the game’s first touchdown drive, it did so by driving 95 yards in 10 plays.

Nix’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Seth Williams gave the Tigers a 16-3 lead with 10:03 remaining.

Lideatrick Griffin returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards to the Auburn 29. That led to Rogers’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Austin Williams to get the Bulldogs within 16-10 with 8:24 left.

However, Nix ran three yards for a touchdown and threw to Ze’Vian Capers for a two-point conversion and a 24-10 lead with 6:03 remaining.

Carlson kicked a 27-yard field goal that gave Auburn a 3-0 lead about midway through the first quarter.

Roger McCreary intercepted Rogers, giving the Tigers the ball at the Bulldogs’ 46, but on fourth and four, Nix threw an incompletion.

Mississippi State drove to Brandon Ruiz’s 41-yard field goal, tying the score with 5:27 left before halftime.

Later in the half, Nix drove Auburn 37 yards in seven plays and Carlson kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Tigers a 6-3 halftime lead.

–Field Level Media

Dec 5, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA;  Auburn Tigers quarterback Bo Nix (10) drops back to pass against the Texas A&M Aggies during the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn, Mississippi State look to pick up pieces

The season looked promising for both Auburn and Mississippi State when Southeastern Conference play got underway in late September.

The Tigers were ranked No. 11 in the preseason and climbed to No. 7 after beating then-No. 23 Kentucky in their opener.

The Bulldogs began the season unranked but soared to No. 16 after beating defending national champion LSU 44-34 on the road in their season opener.

Auburn and Mississippi State can take their frustrations out on each other Saturday night when they square off in Starkville, Miss.

The Tigers (5-4, 5-4 SEC) have lost consecutive games to No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Texas A&M, with a goal of trying to salvage a winning record in their regular-season finale.

“Learning how to go through adversity is just part of the process,” Auburn quarterback Bo Nix said. “It’s not like we have a bad team by any means. All you can do is just move forward, make sure you finish the season how you’d like and not just let the whole season go to waste.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn tried to put the season in perspective after Tigers allowed 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of a 31-20 loss to Texas A&M in the home finale last Saturday.

He suggested a four-loss season in a 10-game SEC schedule wouldn’t look as bad as a four-loss season in a normal schedule featuring eight SEC games and four nonconference games.

Fans on social media were critical of what they perceived as a lowering of standards at Auburn.

Malzahn tried to clarify what he meant about a season in which three of the Tigers’ losses have come against teams that were ranked in the top five at the time of the defeats.

“I want to make sure it’s very clear: Our expectations are to win championships here at Auburn,” Malzahn said.

The Bulldogs are just 2-6 overall and in the SEC, and even that opening victory doesn’t seem as impressive as it once did because LSU has stumbled all season. With just two games remaining, Mississippi State can’t get to .500 in coach Mike Leach’s first season.

Mississippi State has been short-handed in its past two games because of COVID-19 issues and it took a pair of 31-24 defeats, to then-No. 13 Georgia and in-state rival Mississippi.

“We’ve got kind of a thin squad,” Leach said. “You march into (Georgia) with 43 scholarship guys, and here we go. But we got better as a team. I’m disappointed we didn’t win, and it was there. We could have won that. I think we should have won it. I was really proud of the effort of our guys, probably as proud as I’ve been of any team I’ve ever coached.”

Stanford transfer K.J. Costello passed for an SEC-record 623 yards against LSU, but he has since been replaced by freshman Will Rogers.

“I think (Rogers) got progressively better,” Leach said. “I think he’s got to keep improving. I do think he’s ahead of schedule. I think he’s better than I would have expected. I think he’s played quite courageous, quite well for a guy his age.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin looks on during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks  at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Rebels’ Kiffin, Bulldogs’ Leach set for first Egg Bowl

Both Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin and Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach will finally get to experience what so many have told them about the entire offseason.

Kiffin and Leach both were hired to lead their respective programs over the offseason, and the first-year coaches will now step into their first Egg Bowl, the annual rivalry tussle between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

The only difference this year is that instead of on Thanksgiving, it will take place Saturday afternoon at Ole Miss.

Since being hired pre-pandemic, both coaches have heard from their supporters about the significance of the Egg Bowl.

“I’ve known about it from watching it,” said Kiffin, who was hired as head coach at Ole Miss last December. “It used to be on Thanksgiving a lot. With my brother here for a number of years, I knew it was always competitive and a big deal around here.”

A month after Kiffin was hired at Ole Miss, Leach was tabbed as the head coach for Mississippi State, and he also has come to understand the intensity of the rivalry from afar.

“Even as I was a kid, I know it was always an incredibly intense game,” Leach said. “I know it’s very meaningful to people and I know that it’s in conversation all year ’round. There’s not a day I don’t hear somebody mention the Egg Bowl. I know it’s a very meaningful game and I also know that there have been plenty of them that have been exciting to watch long before I was even in the state of Mississippi. It’s exciting to be a part of it.”

After a 44-34 win in the season opener at LSU, Mississippi State lost five of its next six games and enters this weekend 2-5 overall and in SEC play.

The Bulldogs are coming off a close loss at Georgia (31-24), and Leach feels that defeat was another sign his younger team is starting to mature a bit heading into the stretch run of the season.

“We just have to keep working hard,” Leach said. “I don’t think we’ve hit our potential yet. I think we are proof that we are young enough to where we are going to change for the positive. That’s where the biggest strides come. The younger they are, the more they are developing. We’re right there.”

On the other side, Ole Miss enters 3-4 and on a two-game winning streak following a 54-21 win over Vanderbilt and a 59-42 win over South Carolina.

The Rebels were slated to play at Texas A&M last week, but the game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues.

Kiffin obviously didn’t want to see the stoppage last week with the rhythm his team had established in the two games prior, but he hopes the bye week will be an advantage.

“It is what it is,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully we used it to get better at some things.”

Ole Miss did receive some good news in that Otis Reese, a former safety at Georgia who transferred to Ole Miss in January, was cleared to play by the NCAA and will make his debut with the Rebels against Mississippi State.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2020; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels (18) is sacked by Mississippi State Bulldogs linebacker Aaron Brule (3) and defensive end Marquiss Spencer (42) during the first quarter at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Daniels comes up big in debut, leading No. 13 Georgia past Mississippi State

J.T. Daniels threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns in his Georgia debut to lead the No. 13 Bulldogs to a 31-24 win over Mississippi State on Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens.

Daniels, a redshirt sophomore who transferred from Southern Cal, completed 28 of 38 passes for the Bulldogs (5-2, 5-2 SEC). Daniels became the first Georgia quarterback to throw for 400 yards since Aaron Murray in 2013. His 40-yard touchdown to Kearis Jackson with 9:50 remaining broke a 24-24 tie and put Georgia ahead to stay.

Mississippi State had one final possession and drove to the 47, but quarterback Will Rogers was sacked by Azeez Ojulari on fourth-and-7 to end the hopes for the Bulldogs. Georgia ran the final 1:18 off the clock.

Two of Daniels’ touchdowns went to Jermaine Burton, who caught eight passes for 197 yards, the fourth most in school history and just shy of the record of 205 gained by Tavarres King in 2012. George Pickens, who missed the last two games with an injury, caught eight passes for 87 yards and one touchdown.

Mississippi State (2-5, 2-5) moved the ball steadily behind Rogers. The freshman completed 41 of 52 passes for 336 yards and one touchdown. Jaden Walley caught seven passes for 115 yards and one touchdown. Osirus Mitchell and Dillon Johnson also caught seven passes.

The game was tied 17-17 at halftime as the two teams exchanged scores.

Mississippi State’s Brandon Ruiz opened the scoring in the first quarter, completing a 15-play drive with a 22-yard field goal, but Georgia answered with an 11-play drive that ended when Pickens caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Daniels.

Mississippi State scored on another long 14-play drive, with Dillon Johnson scoring on a 4-yard run, but Georgia tied it 10-10 on Jack Podlesny’s 41-yard field goal.

Mississippi State regained the lead on a 51-yard pass from Rogers to Walley, only to have Georgia even the score on Burton’s 18-yard toss from Daniels.

The teams matched touchdowns in the third quarter. Georgia scored on a 48-yard pass from Daniels to Burton and Mississippi State evened it at 24-24 on a 3-yard Johnson run.

–Field Level Media

Aug 31, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback JT Daniels (18) throws a pass against the Fresno State Bulldogs during the first quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No. 13 Georgia, Mississippi State eager to return to field

There are plenty of questions swirling around the Southeastern Conference this week as Mississippi State prepares to travel to Georgia for a meeting of teams that share the same nickname, Bulldogs.

The most unanswerable early in the week was whether the game will actually take place. Both teams had their games postponed a week ago owing to COVID-19 issues, Georgia failing to make the trip to Missouri and Mississippi State’s home game with Auburn not played.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said, “We certainly are confident that we are going to be able to play Mississippi State. We feel good about where we are. We feel good about where they are. That’s communicated, so we feel good about playing.”

It’s just the uncertainty that’s loathsome, according to Mississippi State coach Mike Leach.

“The distractions have been very frustrating,” Leach said. “I think they have been for everybody — fans and everybody. We try to just lock into practice. To be perfectly honest, I think practice has been the most pleasant releases our players have had. I’m sure that’s probably the case around the country.”

No. 13 Georgia (4-2, 4-2 SEC) has lost two of its last three games, falling to then-No. 8 Florida and No. 2 Alabama. Mississippi State (2-4, 2-4) snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Vanderbilt in its most recent game.

Georgia leads the all-time series 18-6 and leads 11-2 in games played in Athens. Georgia won the last meeting 31-3 in 2017. This will be homecoming week for Georgia, where the hosts are 78-18-2.

Another big question surrounds Georgia’s starting quarterback position. Stetson Bennett hurt his shoulder against Florida and could be on the verge of losing the job, even if healthy. One possibility is D’Wan Mathis, who started and struggled in the season opener against Arkansas.

But the other possibility for Georgia — and many think the likely starter — is the intriguing JT Daniels, the highly touted transfer from Southern California, who has yet to play after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Daniels had been projected as the starter before the season, but his knee did not gain medical clearance in time for the season-opener, so Bennett started.

Daniels has since been cleared medically, but Smart said the competition would continue through game week.

“You just try to make the best situation you can to give your team an opportunity to win,” Smart said. “You have to put the best guys out there that give you the best opportunity to win.”

For Leach, quarterbacks aren’t typically a problem. He has developed a 3,000-yard passer in 17 of his 18 seasons as a head coach. It isn’t likely to happen this season, although quarterback K.J. Costello has thrown for 1,283 yards, an average of 256.6 yards per game, and six touchdowns.

Costello will be challenged by the aggressive Georgia defense, which allows only 20.8 points per game and ranks second in the league with 18 sacks. The Bulldogs are especially tough against the run, ranking fourth nationally allowing just 82.8 yards per game. But Georgia will again be without preseason All-America candidate Richard LeCounte, who is recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in a motorcycle accident three weeks ago.

The Mississippi State defense is young; the team has 14 defensive players on the two-deep roster who are freshmen or sophomores. But veteran defensive ends Marquiss Spencer (21 career tackles for loss) and Kobe Jones (20 career tackles for loss) are a concern for with Georgia’s running game. Mississippi State is third in the SEC, allowing 127.2 yards rushing per game, and third in total defense (359.8 yards).

–Field Level Media

Oct 17, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA;  Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) attempts to break the tackle of Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman McKinnley Jackson (35) during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt, Mississippi State look to get offenses going

Two Southeastern Conference teams with struggling offenses attempt to snap four-game losing streaks when Vanderbilt visits Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon in Starkville, Miss.

The Commodores (0-4, 0-4) are looking for their first win and the Bulldogs (1-4, 1-4) haven’t won since opening the season with a 44-34 upset against LSU.

Mississippi State (14.8 points per game) and Vanderbilt (11.3) are the league’s two worst scoring offenses. State ranks 12th in total offense (348.8 yards per game) while the Commodores are dead last (297.8).

After quarterback K.J. Costello threw for an SEC-record 623 yards in the win against the Tigers, coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense has gone cold, scoring zero points twice and 14 in each of the other two games.

Costello has thrown one touchdown and eight interceptions post-LSU. Last week, he threw for 16 yards on 11 attempts vs. Alabama before leaving with a head injury. But true freshman quarterback Will Rogers (one touchdown, four interceptions, 4.4 yards per attempt) has also struggled.

The pair are State’s only two eligible scholarship quarterbacks. Leach says that MSU is monitoring Costello’s health, and believes the Bulldogs haven’t lost heart.

“Honestly, it’s kind of ‘committed to improve,’” Leach said this week, when asked to describe the team’s mood. “I’m not happy with the results, but committed to improve.”

The Bulldogs rank second in the league in total defense (336.2) but eighth in scoring defense (29.6). MSU’s minus-12 turnover margin hasn’t helped.

The Commodores played their best offensive game last week against a weak Ole Miss defense. Quarterback Ken Seals was 31-for-40 with a VU freshman-record 319 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a 54-21 loss.

The defense, however, was lit up for 641 yards. Vanderbilt had shown promise there in a season-opening, 17-12 loss to Texas A&M, but has been out-scored 136-35 since.

The Commodores didn’t play three weeks prior to Saturday’s game due to opt-outs and positive COVID-19 tests that postponed the Missouri game, which came next to a bye week.

Coach Derek Mason’s defense has all kinds of experience. On Tuesday, Mason blamed the recent drop-off on a lack of continuity due to a lack of bodies.

“The experience piece is good, but when you haven’t played together enough, you’re still trying to get that timing, that trust,” Mason said

It’s been a war of attrition for both teams.

Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill (295 yards from scrimmage in three games) didn’t play the next two and recently confirmed he’s done for the year. He’s the eighth Bulldog to leave in the last three weeks, though several weren’t significant contributors.

As for Vanderbilt, four key offensive linemen opted out before the season began. Mason announced that starting safety Donovan Kaufman (who missed the last two games for health reasons) is done this year, and that running back Ja’Veon Marlow remains suspended a second straight week.

This is Mississippi State’s homecoming. The Bulldogs are 19.5-point favorites.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) catches a touchdown pass with Mississippi State cornerback Emmanuel Forbes (13) defending at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

Smith catches 4 TDs, No. 2 Alabama throttles Miss. State

In a battle of the SEC’s top-ranked offense and top-ranked defense, both Alabama units were too much for Mississippi State in the No. 2 Crimson Tide’s 41-0 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Mississippi State allowed 499 yards of total offense to the SEC’s leading offense, after the Bulldogs came in surrendering an average of 295.5 per game to lead the conference. Alabama (6-0) was held under its yards-per-game average but had a 27-0 lead by halftime and cruised the rest of the way.

Quarterback Mac Jones completed 24 of 31 passes for 291 yards, including four touchdown passes — all to senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Running back Najee Harris gained 119 yards on 21 carries.

Smith was too difficult a mark for the Mississippi State secondary, exploding for 11 catches for 203 yards.

Smith caught scoring passes of 53 yards and 35 yards in the first quarter as Alabama ran the ball to set up the deep ball to perfection. Another Jones-to-Smith touchdown pass and a pair of Will Reichard field goals gave the Crimson Tide a big lead at the break.

The Bulldogs (1-4) lost their fourth straight game, and lost quarterback K.J. Costello early in the second quarter to an apparent head injury. Costello was replaced by Will Rogers, who completed 24 of 37 passes for 147 yards and two interceptions.

Alabama forced nine straight punts on defense and also forced a fumble in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs lost running back Jo’quavious Marks to injury on the play. Marks was slammed to the ground violently but was able to walk off the field.

The Tide’s streak of 18 games with 35 points or more was in jeopardy late in the game, but Patrick Surtain intercepted a Rogers pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown to give Alabama 41 points. Alabama has 13 consecutive wins over the Bulldogs.

The Crimson Tide have defeated 95 consecutive unranked teams under head coach Nick Saban, the longest streak in FBS history. Alabama is also 49-2 in October games with Saban at the helm.

–Field Level Media