Oct 1, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) makes a pass against the Texas A&M Aggies during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

QB-driven coach Mike Leach, No. 23 Mississippi State face Arkansas

Coach Mike Leach has Mississippi State back in the national spotlight.

For the first time since 2020, the Bulldogs are in The Associated Press’ Top 25, slotting at 23rd as they prepare to face Southeastern Conference foe Arkansas on Saturday in Starkville, Miss.

It marks the first time the Bulldogs (4-1, 1-1) have been in the Top 25 since Sept. 27, 2020.

In Leach’s first game the day before that ranking, his team steamrolled defending national champion LSU 44-34 behind an SEC-record 623 passing yards from transfer quarterback K.J. Costello.

Leach’s history of achievement usually involves the passing game, and the Bulldogs’ Will Rogers falls into the category of Leach passers who have had success in college or beyond.

Leach guided NFL No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch and Josh Heupel when he was an assistant at Kentucky and Oklahoma, respectively. As a head coach, he turned out Kliff Kingsbury and Graham Harrell at Texas Tech and Gardner Minshew at Washington State.

Rogers appears destined to join the list.

With his team scoring at least 39 points in four of its five games, the junior has completed 171 of 234 passes for 1,715 yards (third nationally). His 19 TD passes tie him for the top spot with North Carolina’s Drake Maye.

“He’s gotten better at utilizing the weapons around him more quickly, more decisively,” Leach said of Rogers.

Arkansas (3-2, 1-2) has dropped consecutive games to Texas A&M, 23-21, and Alabama, 49-26, and has no margin for error while occupying the SEC’s West Division basement.

Down 28-0 to Alabama on its home turf in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks battled to 28-23 on Raheim Sanders’ 3-yard TD run late in the third quarter. But the home side couldn’t keep up with Jahmyr Gibbs, who ripped off 72- and 76-yard scores in the fourth quarter to help the Crimson Tide vault past Georgia and into the No. 1 poll spot.

While Sanders is having an outstanding season with 609 rushing yards on 105 carries (5.8-yard average), coach Sam Pittman said his team needs to produce more through the air, especially against SEC talent.

“On offense we’ve got to throw the ball better. Right now, we’re one-dimensional,” the third-year coach said. “We can’t just turn around and hand the ball off and beat good teams.”

Saturday’s biggest concern for Arkansas is the health status of quarterback KJ Jefferson, who was hit in the head last week during the loss to Alabama and was replaced by Cade Fortin.

Pittman did not mention a concussion but said the passer suffered a head injury. Pittman added this week that the team is in “wait-and-see” mode with Jefferson’s progress.

Fortin, a redshirt senior, was 4 of 10 for 35 yards in relief. He is backed up by redshirt freshman Malik Hornsby.

“We’re very confident with (Fortin) in practice,” Pittman said. “He’s done really well in the two-minute situations. He’s a good quarterback and he has experience. We also believe in Malik.”

Arkansas holds an 18-13-1 all-time edge in the series and has won two straight.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Pasadena, California, USA; Bowling Green Falcons quarterback Matt McDonald (3) runs the ball as UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Martin Andrus Jr. (44)  and linebacker Carl Jones Jr. (35) move in with tight end Andrew Bench (89) providing coverage during the second half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State seeks bounce-back effort vs. Bowling Green

Mississippi State recorded a pair of impressive wins in its first two nonconference games.

The Bulldogs then a 31-16 loss at LSU in their Southeastern Conference opener last week. They will hope to get back on track when they host Bowling Green in a nonconference game on Saturday.

“We’ve identified plenty to improve on from the last game,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said. “We need to get a week better this week.”

The Bulldogs (2-1), who began the season by defeating Memphis 49-23 and Arizona 39-17, led LSU 13-0 before getting outscored 31-3 in the final 30:46.

They held the ball for an average of 39 minutes in the first two games but for just 27 against LSU. After averaging 30.5 first downs and 487 yards in the first two games, they had just 15 first downs and 289 yards against the Tigers.

“We’ve got to be consistent,” Leach said. “On all three sides of the ball we interrupted ourselves of being inconsistent.”

The Falcons (1-2) showed resiliency last week.

Coming off a 59-57 loss in seven overtimes against Eastern Kentucky, Bowling Green had to work overtime again vs. Marshall after overcoming two 14-point deficits. The Falcons needed just one extra period to prevail 34-31 against a Thundering Herd team that had just beaten Notre Dame on the road.

“There’s some tenaciousness, no quit in this team,” Falcons coach Scot Loeffler said. “It just shows you: Don’t listen to the noise, don’t worry about what emblem you have on your helmet.

“Anyone in college football can win. Every team that we play, you’re going to have the chance to win or lose the game, plain and simple.”

Bowling Green, which began the season with a 45-17 loss at UCLA, added five transfers to its roster in June.

“We came out with a lot of new transfers, anybody that knows football, that’s hard to do — get a team together that doesn’t have much chemistry in order to win,” senior wide receiver Odieu Hiliare said. “You got to build chemistry, valor, resilience, and we’ve been doing a great job.”

–Field Level Media

Sa'vion Jones sacks Quarterback Will Rogers and causes a fumble as the LSU Tigers take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

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LSU rallies past Mississippi St. with big 4th quarter

Jayden Daniels ran for a touchdown and passed for another, and host LSU outscored Mississippi State 21-0 in the fourth quarter of a 31-16 victory in the SEC opener for both teams Saturday night in Baton Rouge, La.

Daniels completed 22 of 37 for 210 yards and rushed for 93 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown run that gave the Tigers (2-1) their first lead early in the fourth quarter.

Will Rogers passed for just 214 yards (24 of 42) and one touchdown with one interception for the Bulldogs (2-1). Rogers entered the game leading the nation in completions per game (38.5), was second in passing touchdowns (nine) and third in passing yards (381.5).

MSU was clinging to a 16-10 lead late in the third quarter when Austin Williams fumbled while trying to make a fair catch on a punt and Slade Roy recovered for LSU at the Bulldogs 9.

Daniels ran for the go-ahead touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter.

Josh Williams ran 7 yards for a touchdown that increased the lead to 24-16 with 6:53 remaining.

Armoni Goodwin ran 47 yards for a touchdown that pushed the lead to 31-16 with 4:50 left.

On its first possession of the third quarter, LSU drove to the MSU 18 before stalling and Damian Ramos kicked a 35-yard field goal to get the Tigers within 13-10.

The Bulldogs answered with a drive that reached the LSU 21 before Ben Raybon kicked a 45-yard field goal that extended the lead to 16-10.

On MSU’s first possession, Jo’quavious Marks completed an 87-yard drive with a 37-yard touchdown run for a 6-0 lead that held up through the end of the first quarter.

Dillon Johnson’s 35-yard run set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Rogers to Rara Thomas for a 13-0 lead with 2:14 left in the half.

Daniels had runs of 13, 15 and 20 yards on his way to throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jaray Jenkins with 46 seconds left. That left the Bulldogs with a 13-7 halftime lead.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach looks on during the first half against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State hopes to see where it stands in SEC, visits LSU

Mississippi State rolled through its nonconference schedule.

LSU bounced back from a disappointing start to overwhelm an outmanned opponent.

Now both teams will get a better idea of where they stand when the Bulldogs visit the Tigers in the SEC opener for both teams in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday.

Mississippi State (2-0) cruised to a pair of wins to open its season, beating Memphis 49-23 and Arizona 39-17 while trailing for a total of just 7:30 between the two contests.

But it has had lulls, allowing Memphis to score 20 points in a span of four second-half possessions and turning the ball over three times when it had a chance to pull away from Arizona earlier than it did.

“Our answer to problems lately is to play hard,” Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach said. “Which I think is a good thing.”

Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers leads the nation in completions per game (38.5), is tied for second in passing touchdowns (nine) and third in average passing yards (381.5). He’s also brought a lot of variety to the offense, throwing touchdown passes to six different receivers.

Mississippi State and LSU are tied for second in the SEC in scoring (44.0 points per game), though the Tigers’ average is skewed by the 65 points they scored against FCS opponent Southern last Saturday.

LSU head coach Brian Kelly said “everything is heightened” this week because of the presence of an SEC opponent.

Jayden Daniels became the first quarterback in LSU history to pass for 200 yards and rush for 100 in a game that ends in regulation in the Tigers’ 24-23 loss to Florida State on Sept. 4. Last week he threw three touchdown passes and ran for another while playing just over a quarter in the blowout win.

“He has been efficient and there’s still growth that can happen there,” Kelly said. “His demeanor on the sideline is that he takes in info and moves on.”

LSU hopes its running game receives a boost from the return of starting running back John Emery, who hasn’t played since the end of the 2020 season because of academic issues.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Rara Thomas (0) runs the ball against Arizona Wildcats cornerback Isaiah Rutherford (2) during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi St. QB Will Rogers carves up Arizona in rout

Will Rogers passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns as Mississippi State overcame three turnovers to beat host Arizona 39-17 on Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz.

Mississippi State (2-0) twice stopped Arizona on fourth down in Bulldogs’ territory in the fourth quarter while protecting a 15-point lead. MSU sealed the victory with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Rogers to Caleb Ducking with 3:18 to go.

Arizona (1-1) struggled offensively. Quarterback Jayden de Laura completed 23 of 45 passes for 220 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. The Wildcats rushed for only 40 yards, including Michael Wiley’s 34-yard scoring run on the game’s first drive.

Rogers was content to efficiently work the short passing game, completing 39 of 49 throws, with none going longer than 20 yards. He was intercepted once.

Mississippi State, which led 18-10 at halftime, marched 75 yards on the opening drive of the second half, capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass to Austin Williams.

After de Laura threw his second interception on the ensuing possession, Arizona got back in the game when Jaxen Turner stripped the ball from receiver Jamire Calvin, recovering it and returning it 47 yards to the 4. The Wildcats scored two plays later on a 2-yard pass to Jacob Cowing to make it 25-17 with 7:37 left in the third quarter.

Mississippi State turned momentum back in its favor late in the quarter. Tyrus Wheat deflected a pass at the line of the scrimmage that Nathaniel Watson intercepted and returned 51 yards to the Arizona 11.

The Bulldogs then gambled on fourth-and-3, with Rogers hitting Williams on a quick slant for a TD with 14:17 to go in the game.

Mississippi State scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, but Massimo Biscardi missed the PAT after both scores. Backup kicker Ben Raybon came on to hit a 39-yard field goal for a 15-7 lead late in the first quarter and connected from 22 yards with 33 seconds left before halftime to make it 18-10.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan (5) is sacked by Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive end Randy Charlton (5) during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State rides Will Rogers’ 5 TDs past Memphis

Will Rogers threw five touchdown passes, Jo’quavious Marks rushed for two scores and Mississippi State defeated Memphis 49-23 in the season opener for both teams Saturday in Starkville, Miss.

Rogers completed 38 of 49 passes for a career-high 450 yards and one interception. Twelve different players caught at least one pass for the hosts.

Seth Henigan tossed one touchdown pass and rushed for another while Jay Ducker rushed 50 yards for a score for the Tigers.

Mississippi State (1-0) took the opening drive and marched 75 yards in 10 plays with Rogers tossing a 23-yard touchdown pass to Rara Thomas for a quick 7-0 lead.

With 5:17 left in the first quarter, the game was delayed because of lightning in the area.

Though the game was delayed for 2 hours and 16 minutes, the Bulldogs came back from the locker room and went ahead 14-0 following a successful second drive. Rogers connected with Jaden Walley from 9 yards out with 53 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Following an interception by Quindell Johnson, Memphis (0-1) was able to cut into the deficit with a 42-yard field goal by Chris Howard.

Mississippi State immediately responded and traveled 61 yards in nine plays capped by a 1-yard touchdown by Marks for a 21-3 lead with 10 minutes left in the second.

Memphis’ Greg Rubin was called for two penalties in the red zone and the Bulldogs took advantage on a 14-play drive by scoring on their fourth straight possession. Marks plunged in from the 2-yard line for a 28-3 lead with 1:40 to go in the second.

When Rogers tossed a 35-yard touchdown to Caleb Ducking with 10:48 remaining in the third, the Bulldogs led 35-3.

The Tigers closed within 35-10 when Ducker, a transfer from Northern Illinois, scampered 50 yards for a score on their ensuing possession.

After recovering a fumble early in the fourth, Memphis capitalized as Henigan threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Lewis. The two-point conversion failed and the visitors trailed 35-16 with 10:13 left.

The Bulldogs then went ahead 42-16 when Rogers threw his fourth touchdown pass with 5:59 remaining, a 33-yard strike to Rufus Harvey.

Rogers’ fifth touchdown covered 23 yards to Justin Robinson with 2:05 to go.

–Field Level Media

Jul 19, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach shown on the stage during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leach on SEC realignment: ‘Let me handle that’

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said realigning the SEC will be a snap when Texas and Oklahoma arrive in 2025.

“They oughta let me handle that,” Leach said Tuesday at SEC Media Days in Atlanta. “I’ll have that done by lunch. I think it would be brilliant to let me handle it.”

Leach suggested moving Alabama and Auburn to the SEC East and letting Oklahoma and Texas join his Bulldogs in the SEC West.

“You knock those guys off and send them to the East and we have to play Texas and OU, tell me how I’ve lost on that deal,” Leach said. “I have a lot of respect for those guys, but in this conference they can just go ahead and get in line with everybody else.”

Leach, 61, is entering his third season in Starkville, Miss. Mississippi State finished 7-6 last season after going 4-7 in his first year on campus in 2020.

Leach coached against Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 at Texas Tech from 2000-09.

Never shy about giving an opinion, Leach touched on a wide range of subjects during his time on the dais Tuesday, Topics included the beef between Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher over name, image and likeness deals, as well as the dance moves of LSU’s Brian Kelly and South Carolina’s Shane Beamer.

Back in May, Saban made a crack that Texas A&M “bought every player on their team.” Fisher insisted the Aggies broke no rules and questioned Saban’s character, with both coaches ultimately receiving reprimands from the SEC.

Leach said the current NIL situation — Saban said his players earned more than $3 million in deals in the past year — is “not sustainable.”

“I think they both kind of illustrate the frustration of how things are right now and it’s not sustainable, so something’s going to change,” Leach said. “We haven’t defined what exactly is an amateur, or a student-athlete, as opposed to a professional, and I think we need to do that. I think there is ways to do it.”

As for dancing coaches, Leach gave Beamer the nod over Kelly after the South Carolina coach’s performance went viral on Tuesday.

“Some of those guys are into this stuff,” Leach said. “I mean, can you imagine that? (Beamer) is definitely up there. Let’s think this through. I don’t know, you’ve got to give Coach Kelly an A for effort. But I do think it was more effort than ability. I don’t know, maybe Beamer. I think Beamer is the guy to beat right now.”

Mississippi State opens the season at home against Memphis on Sept. 3.

–Field Level Media

Mississippi State Bulldogs Head Coach Mike Leach talks to the referee after a turnover by his team to the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the AutoZone Liberty Bowl at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.

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Reports: Mississippi State’s Mike Leach signs extension

Mississippi State and football coach Mike Leach agreed to a two-year extension through the 2025 season, multiple outlets reported.

Leach, 61, completed the first two years of a four-year deal he signed with the Bulldogs in January of 2020. The new agreement boosts his annual compensation from $5 million to $5.5 million, according to reports from the Clarion Ledger and ESPN.

Leach led Mississippi State to a 4-7 record in 2020 and a 7-6 mark in 2021. The Bulldogs beat Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl after his first season and lost to his former employer Texas Tech in the Liberty Bowl last season.

Overall, he owns a 150-103 record in 20 seasons as a head coach at Texas Tech (2000-09), Washington State (2012-19) and Mississippi State.

–Field Level Media

Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach looks on during the final minute of the game as Auburn Tigers take on Mississippi State Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. Mississippi State Bulldogs defeated Auburn Tigers 43-34.

Reports: Mississippi State extends Mike Leach through 2025

Mississippi State and its head football coach, Mike Leach, agreed to a two-year contract extension on Tuesday according to multiple reports.

The extension reportedly will keep Leach in Starkville, Miss. through the 2025 season and raise his annual salary to $5.5 million.

Leach, 61, is entering his third season at the helm of the Bulldogs. They went 4-7 in his first season — the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign — and 7-6 last season. In both seasons, Mississippi State went to bowl games, winning the Armed Forces Bowl in 2020 and losing the Liberty Bowl in 2021.

Mississippi State is the third stop for Leach as a head coach. He won 84 games — and never had a losing season — in 10 years at Texas Tech. After a few years away from coaching, he was hired at Washington State in 2012 and went 55-47 in eight seasons, guiding the Cougars to a 2-4 record in bowl games.

Leach was an understudy of Hal Mumme and helped popularize his pass-heavy “Air Raid” offensive attack.

Will Rogers returns as the Bulldogs quarterback this season after finishing second in the SEC in passing yards (4,739) and passing touchdowns (36) last year.

Mississippi State opens its 2022 season at home against Memphis on Sept. 3.

–Field Level Media

Mississippi State wide receiver Makai Polk (10) receives a pass for a touchdown past Vanderbilt cornerback Allan George (28) during the second quarter at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021.

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Mississippi State WR Makai Polk declares for NFL draft

Mississippi State receiver Makai Polk announced Sunday that he is declaring for the NFL draft.

Polk established single-season records of 105 receptions and 1,046 receiving yards for the Bulldogs. He also caught nine touchdown passes.

The transfer from Cal thrived in the offense ran by coach Mike Leach and the tutelage of receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr.

“I am so thankful and appreciative for Coach Steve Spurrier and Coach Mike Leach for giving me the opportunity to play in the SEC with Mississippi State University,” Polk wrote in his announcement on Twitter. “Also a big shout out to my teammates as I have decided to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft and pursue my next goal and dream of playing at the professional level in the National Football League.”

Polk had just 36 catches for 478 yards and three scores in 12 games over two seasons at Cal.

–Field Level Media