| Mississippi Clarion Ledger
OXFORD — Mississippi State’s Egg Bowl performance was eerily similar to the way it played against Georgia the week prior.
The offense looked great at times and totally ineffective at others. The defense was stingy and bent but did not break in the red zone multiple times, but it gave up way too many explosive passing plays to call it a well-rounded outing.
The final score was the same last week against Georgia, too.
All in all, the result was another narrow margin of defeat for coach Mike Leach’s Bulldogs. Here’s how Mississippi State graded out in its 31-24 Egg Bowl loss to Ole Miss.
Mississippi State’s air raid offense appears to be steadily coming around.
Granted, the Bulldogs went up against the lowest-ranked defense in the SEC. But they had four drives of 75-plus yards and continued to show flashes of what the future could hold under Leach.
Freshman quarterback Will Rogers has been effective and has protected the football well in his three career starts. He has strung together back-to-back games of 300-plus passing yards without throwing any interceptions in those games. He had 440 passing yards Saturday.
Leach said he was happy with the way Rogers’ pocket presence and the play of the offensive line complemented each other.
Rogers’ favorite target has been a fellow freshman in wide receiver Jaden Walley, who became the second Mississippi State player to have back-to-back games with 100-plus receiving yards. He had nine catches for 176 yards against Ole Miss.
“I thought Will did a good job extending plays with his feet,” Leach said. “I thought our receivers on some of them scramble situations reacted and judged positions to make plays.”
Just like JT Daniels and Georgia did, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral and the Rebels offense made Mississippi State pay with long shots down the field.
Ole Miss had seven passing plays of 15 or more yards and six rushes of 10 or more yards. They added up in the end and were too much for Mississippi State to overcome.
Ole Miss finished with 550 yards of offense. The Rebels stayed committed to the running game in totaling 45 rushing attempts for 163 yards. Sophomore Jerrion Ealy had a consistent showing in running 18 times for 91 yards. He scored a touchdown that gave Ole Miss a 10-point lead with less than five minutes left.
Mississippi State forced three turnovers on downs inside its own 25. The Bulldogs would not have stayed in the game without those stops, but Ole Miss was a play or two away on those tries from pulling away much sooner.
“I thought we contained their offense better than most teams have,” Leach said.
The bottom line is Mississippi State cannot afford to give up quick scores on long plays that beat the secondary, especially when trying to back up an offense that has been as inconsistent as it has been all season.
Leach and the Bulldogs were reportedly below the SEC’s 53-man threshold of available scholarship players again, but they played anyway. And all things considered, it was not a total flop.
The effort was there. Wide receivers made tough catches, defensive backs stepped up and made big hits, and the offensive line had another solid four quarters.
The coaches had Mississippi State ready to play. The Bulldogs just don’t have a good enough football team to win games they aren’t favored to by simply showing up and being engaged for four quarters. Leach is still in the infant stages of implementing his system and culture.
Ole Miss jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and Mississippi State could have easily folded. But it didn’t, and that’s a sign of a team that is still playing for its coaches — small roster sizes and all.
Contact Tyler Horka at [email protected] Follow @tbhorka on Twitter. To read more of Tyler’s work, subscribe to the Clarion Ledger today!