The Mississippi State Bulldogs played a thriller last week against Sam Pittman’s Arkansas Razorbacks. It was logical to think that game would be interesting and it definitely lived up to the billing.
By Matt Zemek
The Razorbacks escaped with a three-point win using nearly everything in their arsenal, including a variety of trick plays. In what was a tale of two halves, Arkansas had the better of State in the first half, but the Bulldogs and quarterback Will Rogers found a way to make it interesting in the second half. It all came down to a Bulldog field goal to force overtime; the kick was bad from the start. It never went straight, instead going wide left and giving the Razorbacks yet another win over a ranked opponent. So, let’s see how Mississippi State can rebound against a good Auburn team.
1 – Will Rogers needs to repeat his performance from the Arkansas game
Will Rogers may have thrown one interception against Arkansas, but volume passers are going to make an occasional mistake due to putting more passes in play. That one interception was easily offset by a 36-of-48 passing line for 417 yards and four touchdowns. He was efficient, sharp, and had purpose in his passes all game long. You could see that Rogers was feeling it in the second half; he just didn’t get much help from his rushing attack and defense. If he can put up another performance like that against Auburn, the Bulldogs have a great chance to make up for their loss against Arkansas with a win in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
2 – Mike Leach has to figure out his running game (again)
Mike Leach will probably point to the fact that his team still had a chance to force overtime against Arkansas, but the Bulldogs were let down by their kicker. Leach might not have needed to kick that game-tying field goal if his guys had anything close to a real running game. The entire team had a grand total of 26 rushing attempts against Arkansas, and that includes Will Rogers’ sacks and attempts, which frankly shouldn’t count as rushing carries. MSU’s star back, Jo’quavious Marks, had 11 carries for 40 yards. Nobody put the ball in the end zone on the ground. The Bulldogs simply do not have a rushing attack to speak of, and they’re simply not going to win big in the SEC until Leach finds a way to incorporate this component into his offense. They’ll likely come close to winning the division if everything breaks right, but more well-rounded teams such as Alabama will have the edge. Maybe Leach will finally get the hint, but it seems unlikely.
3 – Frustrate Bo Nix
Bo Nix is quietly having a really good year for the Auburn Tigers. While he’s not lighting up the scoreboard, he is finding ways to distribute the football while taking care of it and having quality performances against Top 25 teams. Consider: 1,123 of his 1,917 passing yards have come against Top 25 opponents. He might have had a better year if the Auburn line wasn’t allowing as many sacks. Bo Nix has been sacked a total of 10 times against ranked opponents and 12 times overall. Against Texas A&M and Georgia, Bo Nix was sacked eight times, four times in each game. If Mississippi State can generate a pass rush while playing tight in coverage, the Bulldogs have a chance to get after a quarterback who holds the ball too long. It won’t be easy, but frustrating Bo Nix is probably the Bulldogs’ best shot at achieving victory.