NCAAF - SEC
Stadium:Davis Wade Stadium
SU Record: 4-7
ATS Record: 5-6-0
|Sep-4||vs Louisiana Tech|
|Sep-11||vs NC State|
|Nov-20||vs Tennessee State|
|Nov-27||vs Ole Miss|
Mississippi State Bulldogs Returning Stats Leaders
|Shawn Preston Jr.||35||30||65||0||4||0|
OVERALL RETURNING PRODUCTION FOR 2021/22
Mississippi State Football Team News
Head coach Mike Leach begins his second season with the Bulldogs, returning 16 starters after qualifying for a bowl with a regular-season record of 3-7, then knocking off 22nd ranked Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, 28-26. He will need to find more consistency on an offense that didn’t crack the top 100 in the FBS rankings in 2020 if he wants to keep the Mississippi faithful from beginning to have buyers’ remorse for hiring the former Washington State and Texas Tech head coach.
After pulling a big upset over sixth-ranked LSU by a score of 44-34 in the season opener that earned the Bulldogs a top 25 ranking, Mississippi State only managed 30 points in their next four outings, all losses. The only bright spot in what turned out to be seven losses in eight contests was a seven-point win over winless Vanderbilt before losing three more games in a row.
A 51-32 victory over Missouri to close out the ten-game SEC schedule prior to the bowl win may have given the team some optimism going into the offseason. Still, there wasn’t much statistically that the Bulldogs could point to, with the exception of their passing yardage that was ranked 20th nationally. They were also 23rd against the run, but primarily because they didn’t crack the top 100 in pass defense.
Quarterback Will Rogers was able to complete a high percentage of passes at 69.1% as a freshman, but an average of 5.7 yards per attempt with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions isn’t what most fans expected from the Air Raid offense Leach made famous at his prior stops. Rogers wasn’t the starter at the beginning of last season, so being tapped in the preseason as the leader may help him be better prepared to conduct a high-powered offense.
Another sophomore, wide receiver Jaden Wadley, was the primary downfield threat for Rogers, catching 52 passes for an average of 13.8 yards per reception and two touchdowns. In year two of playing in Leach’s attack, Wadley could end up having a special season.
To complete a trio of second-year players, cornerback Emmanuel Forbes was able to pick off five passes and returned three for touchdowns, earning him a spot on the Freshman All-SEC team. He and fellow cornerback Martin Emerson will anchor a secondary that will have to be better in 2021 for the Bulldogs to show improvement against the pass.
With so much youth on the team in 2020, there aren’t many new faces that will be expected to have a big impact. However, a pair of quarterbacks could put pressure on Rogers, with true freshman Sawyer Robertson out of Lubbock and Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham adding depth at the position.
The Bulldogs lost both starting defensive ends, with seventh-round Denver Broncos draft pick Marquiss Spencer coming off a season where he led the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and added three sacks and an interception. Kobe Jones had four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in 2020 before signing as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons.
Middle linebacker Errol Thomspon had a big lead as the teams’ top tackler, with 95 total, four behind the line of scrimmage, and three sacks. He also joined the Falcons as an undrafted free agent.
Alabama is the consensus favorite to repeat as SEC West champions as well as to win the conference and national titles. In a difficult 2020 season, they ran the table with a team that didn’t get the historical respect it deserves but will face a challenge from a Texas A&M squad that went 9-1 last year and defeated North Carolina in the Orange Bowl.
The Aggies have the advantage of hosting Alabama to avenge their only defeat from last year and don’t have to face any of the top teams from the SEC East. With nine starters returning from the top defense in the conference, Texas A&M could contend for the top spot in the conference and a berth in the College Football Playoff.
LSU has some work to do on defense, with Ole Miss poised to score a lot of points again, and both could make a run at the top two in the division. The rest of the teams in the SEC West will most likely be battling for third place and a decent bowl berth.
Mississippi State Offense
Suppose Rogers or one of the new arrivals can get a handle on Leach’s offense. In that case, the Bulldogs have enough returning starters at the skill positions and the offensive line to make life difficult for opposing defenses. They need to be able to develop a running attack that can at least keep their opponents honest and not just drop back into zone coverage to thwart the passing attack.
The talent is probably there if there is the will on the part of Leach to adapt to life in the SEC, whose defenses are more talented and tougher than those he faced in the Big 12 and the Pac 12. If that happens, Mississippi State could make their upset of LSU to begin the 2020 season look more like the norm than the exception.
Mississippi State Defense
With eight conference games instead of the ten they played in 2020, a lack of defensive depth might not be as big an issue as a year ago. Even last season, the only team that was able to overwhelm their defense was Alabama, and they drop Missouri and Georgia from the schedule, keeping Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
The loss of their defensive ends could be a problem, but the secondary and linebackers have enough experience to improve if they can stay healthy. The defense was good enough in 2020 that even if they maintain the status quo, more firepower on offense will be enough to push the Bulldogs forward.
Frequently Asked Questions
Jackie Sherrill won 75 games from 1991-2003