The Mississippi State Bulldogs took care of business against the North Carolina State Wolfpack this past Saturday. They’re currently sitting at 2-0 but will visit the 2-0 Memphis Tigers coached by Ryan Silverfield.
By Matt Zemek
While the Tigers took care of business against former Florida State quarterback James Blackman and the Arkansas State Red Wolves, they know bigger battles await, with this test against Mike Leach’s team being a foremost measurement of how good they actually are. Now the Bulldogs have a chance to prove they’re capable of something special this year in college football. Let’s take a look at the three keys to this game.
1 – Don’t underestimate Seth Henigan
Memphis quarterback Sam Henigan is off to a rocket-like start in 2021. He threw for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns against Arkansas State and 265 against the FCS Nicholls Colonels, ranked No. 22 in the FCS. The kid knows how to sling it and has enough playmakers around him to give the Bulldogs fits. Whether it’s Javon Ivory or Calvin Austin III, Henigan has weapons all over the field and a bunch of dudes in the backfield. Underestimating the potential of Henigan is a surefire way to set yourself up for a loss.
2 – Ball distribution as a means of frustrating the Tigers
The key to the air raid offense is two-fold. First, Mike Leach needs to have receivers capable of creating yards after the catch. If they can’t do this, the offense is neutered and Leach could essentially say goodbye to the run game. While the Bulldogs rushed for only 22 yards against N.C. State, they’ve been able to get the ball distributed even if the run game isn’t what fans are used to seeing. The Bulldogs had seven receivers with over 25 yards against Louisiana Tech and they also had six receivers with over 25 yards against the Wolfpack. This type of distribution is how Leach can maintain possession and force defenses to work the entire field.
3 – Get Will Rogers going early
Memphis loves playing in shootouts and the Tigers seem to be equipped for such a game. If the Bulldogs want to beat the Tigers, they need to take them out of the game early by getting quarterback Will Rogers into a rhythm. There’s a reason we mentioned ball distribution ahead of this key, they both will be necessary if the Bulldogs are going to outscore the Tigers. Mike Leach isn’t usually known as a shootout guy, he’s a grind-it-out coach who likes the steady short-passing game. We will see what the Tigers are able to do to frustrate Rogers in the early going and if they can keep it up over four quarters. Mississippi State needs to put its quarterback in a position to succeed.