Oct 16, 2021; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Mike Wright (5) attempts a pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt, Mississippi State meet in clash of improving teams

Coaches of Mississippi State and Vanderbilt said they believe the play of their teams is improving. And both teams hope to take another step in the process when they meet Saturday in a Southeastern Conference game in Nashville, Tenn.

Proof of improvements for Mississippi State: The Bulldogs (3-3, 1-2 SEC) are the only team other than No. 1 Georgia to have multiple wins against teams in the current AP Top 25. They have defeated No. 18 North Carolina State and No. 17 Texas A&M.

“I’m pleased we have improved at times,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said, “but we have to accelerate that process and do it more.”

The Bulldogs were reminded of how much growth remains for them to become an SEC contender when they were routed by then-No. 5 Alabama 49-9 at home last week.

“It’s easy to say that Alabama is really good, and that is true,” Leach said. “But my problem is we didn’t play as well as we can and that has to be solved.”

Mississippi State is a good measuring stick for the Commodores in coach Clark Lea’s first season. Vanderbilt has lost the past four meetings with the Bulldogs by a combined score of 107-34.

The Commodores (2-5, 0-3) were on the verge of ending a 15-game SEC losing streak last Saturday. Joseph Bulovas kicked a 28-yard field goal to extend their lead over host South Carolina to 20-14 with 1:36 left.

But quarterback Zeb Noland came off the Gamecocks bench to direct a 75-yard drive, throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Legette with 37 seconds remaining to give South Carolina a 21-20 victory.

“We certainly aren’t looking at this in terms of the accumulation of previous years’ games,” Lea said. “This is about Team 1. This is about what we’re doing this season.”

Quarterback Mike Wright made his first start for Vanderbilt in place of injured Ken Seals, whom Lea said is week-to-week with a finger injury. Wright will start again Saturday.

“I thought we were more explosive, which is something that had kind of held us back in the past,” Lea said.

Vanderbilt had a fourth-down stop in the red zone and made two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

“Our issue is stringing together a consistent performance,” Lea said. “We’re a program that feeds off competition and that wants to win. We are a work in progress and we are becoming the program we know we can become.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Jordan Battle (9) and defensive back Kool-Aid McKinstry (1) react after defeating the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Alabama bounces back from loss, punishes Mississippi State

Bryce Young threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night as No. 5 Alabama authored a predictable rebound from last week’s upset loss at Texas A&M, walloping Mississippi State 49-9 in Starkville, Miss.

Young completed 20 of 28 passes, connecting on scoring strikes of 46, 75, 51 and 29 yards to John Metchie, Jameson Williams, Brian Robinson Jr. and Traseshon Holden. The Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) rolled up 543 yards and made 12 of 16 third-down conversions.

Alabama’s defense, which was riddled by Texas A&M sophomore Zach Calzada last week, exacted a pound of flesh out of Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers.

Rogers hit 35 of 55 passes for 300 yards, but he was intercepted three times and was under constant pressure most of the game. He absorbed seven sacks and played through a right shoulder injury for most of the last three quarters after taking a hard hit.

Mississippi State (3-3, 1-2) rushed for minus 1 yard on 19 attempts.

The Tide needed just 4:26 to take the lead for good. Young hit Metchie with a short pass over the middle, and the wide receiver ran through an arm-tackle on his way to six points.

Brandon Ruiz drilled a 44-yard field goal with 6:52 left in the first quarter to get the Bulldogs on the board, but Jordan Battle made it 14-3 when he picked off Rogers and rumbled 40 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown.

Robinson bulled in from the 1 with 3:15 left in the second quarter for a 21-3 advantage, and Ruiz hit from 37 yards with 59 seconds remaining to make it 21-6 Alabama at halftime.

Any chance Mississippi State had to make a game of it disappeared almost immediately in the third quarter. Richardson took a short pass and zipped down the left sideline, getting a key block late for a touchdown just 14 seconds into the period.

After Ruiz connected on another 37-yarder for the Bulldogs, Robinson turned the game into a laugher with his touchdown reception and then a 3-yard scoring run.

–Field Level Media

Coach Nick Saban leads the Crimson Tide players onto the field before Alabama's 49-7 victory over Southern Miss Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 in Bryant-Denny Stadium. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Alabama Defeats Southern Miss

Coming off first loss, No. 5 Alabama heads to Mississippi State

Alabama committed just enough miscues to undermine its performance last weekend against Texas A&M and snuff any aspirations for completing an unblemished season.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban addressed those shortcomings in short order following a 41-38 road loss that dropped Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) from first place to fifth in the polls. In preparation for their second consecutive road conference game, this time at Mississippi State (3-2, 2-1) at Davis Wade Stadium, the Crimson Tide are honing in on the specific tasks ahead.

Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers is the only quarterback in the SEC with 400 passing yards and multiple touchdowns in the same game, a feat he has accomplished twice.

Alabama rolled to a 41-0 home win over Mississippi State last year; but with the loss to A&M fresh in their minds, the Crimson Tide are aware of what is required to slow the Bulldogs.

“I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that you’ve got to rotate players and keep a lot of fresh players in the game,” Saban said. “You’ve got to rush three guys sometimes, you’ve got to rush four guys sometimes, you’ve got to rush five guys sometimes. I think you’ve got to mix it up and disguise what you’re doing.”

The challenge in facing Alabama is annually the same. The Crimson Tide are juggernauts, and the loss at Texas A&M doesn’t alter that fact. The Aggies did prove that Alabama isn’t infallible, and their effort last week set something resembling a template for crafting an upset victory.

A large part of that challenge is mental. If the Bulldogs play with the vigor they showcased against LSU and Texas A&M over consecutive weeks, opportunities will manifest to push the Crimson Tide to the limit. How the Bulldogs manage the emotional roller coaster will be crucial.

“Your best is always enough,” Bulldogs coach Mike Leach said. “You’ve got to be disciplined enough to do your best, focus in, don’t get discouraged and don’t get too hyped if something good happens for you. It’s the discipline to constantly bring your best effort and not get distracted by the highs and the lows. And I think it takes discipline to do that. That’s the key.”

The Bulldogs do have the benefit of having already done what Alabama could not: defeat the Aggies in College Station. The combination of that result on the heels of a narrow loss against LSU and in advance of an open week set the foundation for an optimistic approach.

Film study of the Alabama loss might offer an additional incentive. The Crimson Tide so frequently throttle foes that not only are defeats rare, but close games are, too. If the Bulldogs need proof that a shocking result is possible, Leach needs only to remind them of what has already been done.

“One thing with Alabama, watching a team that plays them to the wire — not everybody does,” Leach said. “So that’s beneficial from that tape.

“You’ve just got to try and stay even-keeled. You always fight that with a young group, but I have seen some positive things. I thought we did that through the A&M game, so that was pretty good practice with regard to that in a tough environment where it’s tough to communicate.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 2, 2021; College Station, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies tight end Jalen Wydermyer (85) catches a touchdown pass against Mississippi State Bulldogs safety Fred Peters (38)  in the first quarter at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State escapes with upset win over No. 15 Texas A&M

Will Rogers threw for three touchdowns and visiting Mississippi State withstood a rally from No. 15 Texas A&M to hold on for a 26-22 upset victory Saturday night in College Station, Texas.

Trailing 24-22, Texas A&M regained possession with 2:36 to play at its own 11-yard line. Instead of a game-winning drive, Mississippi State’s Nathan Pickering made a sack of quarterback Zach Calzada for a safety.

The Aggies (3-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) never got the ball back.

Rogers was 46-for-59 for 408 yards, helping the offense overcome a rushing attack that managed just 30 yards. Makai Polk made 13 catches for 126 yards, though nine Mississippi State players had three or more receptions.

Calzada threw for 135 yards on 12-for-20 passing. Isaiah Spiller gained 100 rushing yards on 16 carries for the Aggies, who face top-ranked Alabama next week.

Mississippi State (3-2, 1-1), which didn’t commit a turnover, held a 438-297 advantage in total offense and more than a 10-minute edge in time of possession.

Mississippi State led 17-13 at halftime courtesy of Rogers’ 15-yard pass play to Polk with 1:16 left before the break.

The Bulldogs stretched their lead on Rogers’ 20-yard pass to Polk in the third quarter.

Calzada scored on a 25-yard run with 1:18 to play in the third quarter, but the Aggies’ two-point conversion play failed.

Texas A&M settled for Seth Small’s 44-yard field goal at the 5:39 mark to close within 24-22.

In the first half, Mississippi State scored first on Nolan McCord’s 24-yard field goal following Fred Peters’ interception and 12-yard return to the Texas A&M 25.

Calzada made amends with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Wydermyer.

The Bulldogs went back ahead when Rogers connected with Jaden Walley for a 1-yard touchdown play.

The teams made it a combined four consecutive possessions with points on Seth Small’s 40-yard field goal for Texas A&M. The scoring spree was halted when McCord missed a 46-yarder.

–Field Level Media

Andre Anthony runs back a fumble to score as The LSU Tigers take on Central Michigan Chippewas in Tiger Stadium. Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

Lsu Vs Central Michigan V1 7440

LSU hoping for different result vs. pass-happy Mississippi St.

Mississippi State shocked LSU 44-34 in the season opener for both teams last season, as the Bulldogs passed for an SEC-record 623 yards in upsetting the defending College Football Playoff champions.

“It was embarrassing,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said.

Orgeron vowed that his defense will do better when host Mississippi St. (2-1) and LSU (2-1) meet in their SEC opener Saturday in Starkville, Miss.

“We’ve been looking at Mississippi State ever since we couldn’t stop them last year,” Orgeron said. “We know how good they are. We weren’t expected to get burnt last year, but hopefully we fixed that.”

The Tigers, ranked 16th entering this season, had similar defensive lapses in a 38-27 opening loss at UCLA.

They bounced back with two easy home wins against less-talented opponents in FCS McNeese State (34-7) and Central Michigan (49-21).

“I believe we have solved a lot of our problems, but we didn’t answer the first challenge against UCLA,” Orgeron said. “We’ve gotten better, but we’re going to be challenged this Saturday.”

Max Johnson threw five touchdown passes against CMU after throwing three in each of his previous four career starts.

The Bulldogs overcame a 20-point deficit to beat Louisiana Tech 35-34 in their opener, then were impressive in a 24-10 victory against N.C. State. But last week they lost at Memphis 31-29 after failing on a two-point conversion with 1:32 left.

“We’ve just got to be a consistent team, and right now, we are not,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said. “Tough teams have the discipline to just focus one play at a time. We focus in spurts. We need to focus on how good we can be if we fully invest in focusing one play at a time.”

K.J. Costello had the record day against LSU in 2020, but Will Rogers is the quarterback now. He completed a school-record and SEC-record 50 passes and had 419 passing yards against Memphis.

The Bulldogs, who have just a 25.5 percent third-down conversion rate on defense, are allowing just 74.0 rushing yards per game and LSU is averaging just 86 rushing yards.

“I think we’ve done a lot of good things defensively,” Leach said.

–Field Level Media

Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan throws the ball against the Arkansas State Red Wolves during their game at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro, Ark. On Sept. 11, 2021.

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Prolific freshman QB Seth Henigan readies Memphis for Miss. State

Mississippi State has won its opening two games for the first time since 2019, but the Bulldogs are looking for repeat performances like last Saturday’s going forward.

In a border game this Saturday, they will travel three hours to Tennessee to face the Memphis Tigers in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

A slight home underdog last week against North Carolina State, head coach Mike Leach’s squad led throughout and handled the Wolfpack 24-10.

After a poor showing in a season-opening 35-34 win against Louisiana Tech, sophomore tailback Dillon Johnson rebounded by leading the Bulldogs (2-0) in rushing and receiving.

Johnson credited Saturday’s turnaround to a visit to church after he fell into a “dark moment for a second.”

“I have rough games; everybody has rough games,” Johnson told the Clarion-Ledger. “But it’s all just a confidence thing, bro.”

Leach said the 6-foot, 215-pound running back is underappreciated.

“I find Dillon to be a little bit more of a surprise to others that aren’t watching the film and the practices every day because he’s really been doing some great things since the start of camp,” Leach said.

Second-year head coach Ryan Silverfield has seen his Tigers (2-0) benefit from some outstanding play from true freshman quarterback Seth Henigan and an explosive offense in wins over Nicholls and Arkansas State.

In replacing Memphis standout signal-caller Brady White, the 18-year-old Henigan etched his name in the school’s record book by going 22-for-33 for 417 yards and five touchdowns — the eighth-highest single-game yardage total in Tigers history.

The Denton, Tex., native won the job after junior Grant Gunnell went down with a lower-body injury, and Henigan has been exceptional in guiding an offense that is averaging 48.5 points and leads the nation in total offense — 634.5 yards per game.

Henigan is responsible for much of it, completing 41 of 65 passes for 682 yards — the ninth-most in FBS.

“Everyone on the team has some experience,” Henigan said about his poise after the 55-50 win at Arkansas State. “Just to know that those guys have my back puts confidence in me that I can play to the level I’m supposed to and expected to.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 2, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack defensive end Savion Jackson (90) reacts after a tackle against the South Florida Bulls during the second half at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

NC State ‘D’ draws Mississippi State in proving-ground game

North Carolina State’s defense had little trouble in the opener, but the Wolfpack challenge heightens significantly Saturday night in a collision with Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss.

Mississippi State survived for a 35-34 season-opening victory against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs recovered from a 20-point fourth-quarter hole, marking the largest comeback to win in school history. It was capped by Louisiana Tech’s missed field goal in the game’s closing seconds.

“It was pretty gritty of our team and our players to push through and win one where we had a lot of adversity, which mostly we created ourselves with the penalties and the turnovers,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said. “But there’s a lot of teams that wouldn’t have found a way to win that game.”

With NC State, a future La. Tech foe, sticking South Florida 45-0 for its first shutout of a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in 10 years, the Wolfpack’s defense showed it can be a force.

NC State coach Dave Doeren, who was on the Kansas staff, coached against Leach-led offenses four times when Leach was directing Texas Tech. He knows the task will be heightened in dealing with the Bulldogs’ offense.

“They’re good at what they do,” Doeren said. “They don’t do a lot. There’s not a ton of formations. … He’s got a great system.”

Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers has at least one touchdown pass in seven consecutive games.

NC State cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell and Ruffin McNeill, a special assistant to Doeren, were on Leach’s staff at Texas Tech.

“It’ll be good to see them for like 30 seconds, that’s about what you get,” Leach said. “It isn’t some wistful walk down memory lane like it would be if you didn’t have the pressure of a football game.”

Mississippi State’s approach on offense is bound to put pressure on the Wolfpack’s secondary.

“It will definitely test not just our depth, but also our conditioning,” Doeren said. “It’s going to be a lot of running in the back end this week. To be able to rotate – it’ll be hot there, maybe at night not as hot, but it’ll still be a warm night in Mississippi – we’ll have to take advantage of our depth. I’m glad we were able to play so many of those guys last week.”

NC State has lost eight of its last nine matchups against Southeastern Conference opponents.

The teams have split six all-time meetings, though the past three have been at neutral sites in bowls. The most-recent clash came in the 2015 Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., with the Bulldogs rolling in quarterback Dak Prescott’s final collegiate game.

NC State’s lone previous trip to Starkville resulted in a 6-0 victory in 1931.

The Wolfpack is making its first road trip to a SEC opponent since 2008, while it hasn’t won at an SEC venue since topping 1991 at South Carolina.

“It’s an opportunity for us to continue to earn respect,” Doeren said. “Obviously playing on the road against a team like that from their league, to find a way to win that game it’s good for your team.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Starkville, Mississippi, USA;  Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) runs the ball against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Will Rogers helps Mississippi St. escape La. Tech

Will Rogers went 39-of-47 passing for 370 yards and three touchdowns to lead Mississippi State to a 35-34 comeback home win over Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

Mississippi State trailed 34-14 in the fourth quarter, but scored three unanswered touchdowns and sweated through a 46-yard field goal attempt by Jacob Barnes with two seconds left in the game that would’ve won it for Louisiana Tech.

But Barnes didn’t connect with the kick properly and the ball fell well short of the crossbar.

After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Rogers to Jo’quavious Marks and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Rogers to Johnathan Calvin, Louisiana Tech scored 34 unanswered points.

Louisiana Tech cut its deficit to 14-7 on the final play of the first quarter when Austin Kendall hit Bub Means for a 72-yard touchdown pass.

Kendall tied the game at 14-14 on a 59-yard touchdown run with 11:55 left in the second quarter, then gave Louisiana Tech a 21-14 with 3:06 remaining in the second quarter on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Smoke Harris.

After Barnes kicked a 20-yard field goal with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter, Trey Baldwin of Louisiana Tech picked off a pass from Rogers along the sideline and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown to give the Louisiana Tech a 31-14 lead with 1:50 left in the third.

Barnes hit a 33-yard field goal with 13:11 to give Louisiana Tech a 34-14 lead, but Mississippi State started its comeback, cutting its deficit to 34-21 with 12:01 left on a 1-yard touchdown run by Marks.

Mississippi State then made it a 34-28 game with 7:24 left when Marks scored on a 5-yard touchdown run, capping off a 7-play, 77-yard drive.

Mississippi State then regained the lead, going up 35-34 with 3:37 remaining on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Rogers to Jaden Walley.

–Field Level Media

Jul 21, 2021; Hoover, Alabama, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at Hyatt Regency Birmingham. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State seeking another strong start vs. Louisiana Tech

Mississippi State sent the first shockwaves through 2020’s strange season and is looking for more of those good moments starting this weekend.

Coming off a 4-7 campaign — 3-7 in SEC play, which tied Arkansas for the worst mark in the West Division — the Bulldogs will host Louisiana Tech on Saturday to start head coach Mike Leach’s second season in Starkville, Miss.

His tenure certainly opened with a high-flying assault.

Transfer K.J. Costello and the Bulldogs passed their way to a 44-34 road victory over defending national champion LSU on Sept. 26 as the former Stanford quarterback set an SEC passing record with 623 yards to go along with five touchdowns in the stunner.

MSU soon was grounded, though, dropping seven of 10 contests before wrapping it up with a 28-26 win over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, which was marred by a post-game brawl.

On Saturday, Leach will likely go with quarterback Will Rogers, who took over the job when Costello committed a number of turnovers and was also injured against Alabama on Oct. 31.

South Alabama transfer Chance Lovertich also is in the QB mix, but Leach gave an indication last week that he was leaning toward Rogers, a native of Brandon, Miss., two hours south of Starkville.

“If we were to play today, it would be Will,” Leach told the Clarion-Ledger. “It’s hard to tell. Difficult to say. We’ll see.”

A starter for six games, Rogers passed for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions and became the first MSU quarterback to produce at least 30 completions in three consecutive games.

In Louisiana Tech — a Conference USA member also nicknamed the Bulldogs — Mississippi State will encounter a team coming off a 5-5 season and a 4-2 conference mark in 2020.

Head coach Skip Holtz’s squad returns 18 starters — 10 on defense, five on offense and three specialists — from last year.

On defense, linebacker Tyler Grubbs — the team’s leading tackler — started all 10 games and recorded at least nine tackles in eight of them, earning him four freshman All-American team selections.

“We don’t have the opportunity to have a rolling start with starting on the road against Mississippi State,” said Holtz, who holds a 61-41 record entering his ninth season with his Bulldogs. “We’ve got be playing at a high level early.”

–Field Level Media

Jul 21, 2021; Hoover, Alabama, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at Hyatt Regency Birmingham. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leach ‘would like to see’ 64-team CFP

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach is all for the expansion of the College Football Playoff — he just has a different number of teams in mind than most.

Asked Wednesday during SEC Media Days whether the current proposal of a 12-team model was enough teams, Leach said he preferred 64.

“It’s never enough,” Leach said. “But I’ll tell you what, Dr. (Mark) Keenum, our president, is on that committee so I know they’re in good hands and so I think that part’s outstanding.

“I think 12 teams is a huge step in the right direction. I personally would like to see 64, and you could format it out pretty easily. But I think it’s a huge step in the right direction and I look forward to it.”

It isn’t the first time Leach, known for his eccentric personality and off-topic tangents during press conferences, has spoken of a 64-team football playoff. In one 2012 interview, he called 64 “ideal” and justified it by suggesting the regular season be cut to 10 games.

Leach has remained pro-expansion while other coaches have come out against growing the CFP larger than four. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday that “I don’t think there’s 12 teams good enough” to deserve the national title.

A subcommittee last month recommended a proposal that would expand the field from four to 12 programs, giving the top four seeds a first-round bye and having teams 5-12 play each other in the first round at home fields rather than neutral sites.

Sixty-four is the current size of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament field, with the men at a similar number in 68.

–Field Level Media