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Mississippi State: Post-spring stock report

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton06/13/22


With spring football in the rear view mirror, it’s time to fully embrace the Head Ball Coach’s “talkin’ season.” The transfer portal carousel has slowed, so while rosters aren’t totally finalized just yet, we at least have a sense of strong foundation for each SEC program.

So let’s take a stock report for every team in the conference, examining their offense, defense and overall outlook heading into the 2022 season. 

Today we look at the Mississippi State


It took a bit took to adjust to the SEC, but Mike Leach’s offense finally got humming somewhat in 2021, with quarterback Will Rogers averaging a SEC-high 364.5 passing yards per game — a whopping 145 yards-per-game improvement off his 2020 season.

As Leach’s latest dink-and-dunk maestro, Rogers led the nation in completion percentage (73.9) and had 36 touchdowns to nine interceptions. The third-year veteran won’t have his two bookend tackles off last season, or top target Makai Polk, but State returns plenty of playmakers (wideouts Jaden Walley, Austin Williams,Rara Thomas and tailbacks Jo’quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson) involved in its aerial attack. The Bulldogs also added two more wideouts out of the transfer portal in Georgia’s Justin Robinson and Northwestern’s Jordan Mosley. Polk had a 140 targets last season, so there are plenty of opportunities for other guys to make plays. 

The key for State’s passing attack this fall is generating more explosive plays. If you’re going to rely so heavily on 5- and 6-yard throws, some of those completions need to go for big gains.

MSU’s offensive tackle losses are a concern, but Leach did bring in the No. 1 JUCO tackle in Percy Lewis and there are several other pieces to build a functional unit. Still, the group certainly bears watching during fall camp, as settling on a pair of dependable tackles is paramount for an offense that plans to throw the ball 50 times a game.

In 2021, the Bulldogs averaged just 20 rushing attempts per game, and while they may lean a little more on the ground game, balance isn’t in Leach’s colorful vernacular. Rogers could easily throw for more than 5,000 yards this season, especially when you consider how many games they may be chasing points this fall. 

One area where Mississippi State is expected to be better is in the red zone — both scoring touchdowns and kicking field goals. Leach addressed State’s 2021 kicking woes (Bulldogs made just 56% of their field goal attempts (14 of 25), which ranked No. 124 in the country) by adding transfers Massimo Biscardi and Ben Raybon


State’s defense was solid in 2021, and Zach Arnett’s unit brings back plenty of experience.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs were at their best against the run, ranking No. 3 in the SEC. The defensive line returns its four most important bodies (namely Nathan Pickering, Jaden Crumedy), while a veteran trio of Nathaniel Watson, Tyrus Wheat and Jett Johnson headline their linebacker unit. There’s depth at the ‘backer position, too, where a guy like DeShawn Page is pushing to crack the rotation. 

MSU was gashed at times through the air last season, so it hopes a reshuffled secondary, coupled with the return of pass rushers Jordan Davis, who missed all of 2021 with a torn ACL, and De’Monte Russell will help improve both its pass defense and havoc rate. 

The Bulldogs had just 27 sacks and only 69 tackles for loss last season.

MSU added three corners from the portal or JUCO route in DeCarlos Nicholson, Marcus Banks from Alabama and Hunter Washington from FSU. There’s buzz around junior Decamerion Robinson and Emmanuel Forbes is a solid SEC corner. The Bulldogs are looking for someone from the group to fill the loss of Martin Emerson, who was one of the more underrated corners in the conference the last two seasons. 

At safety, look for transfer Jackie Matthews out of West Virginia to provide an upgrade for a unit that has lots of experience (three returning seniors) but not a ton of quality production. 

One area State must improve in 2022: 3rd down defense. The Bulldogs struggled to consistently get off the field, allowing openings to convert more than 41.6% of third downs — 95th nationally.


The Bulldogs ended last season with a whimper, losing the Egg Bowl and then no-showing against Texas Tech in the bowl game. But as a whole, 2021 was an improvement for Mike Leach’s program in Year 2, and there’s an opportunity to make another jump forward this fall. 

As outlined, Mississippi State returns a ridiculous amount of production on both sides of the ball, most in the SEC per ESPN’s analytics. The Bulldogs were 7-6 last season and lost three games by three points or less, so if the offense continues to blossom and there’s improvement on special teams, this looks like an eight or nine-win team. 

Then you take a look at Mississippi State’s schedule. 

The Bulldogs play at six schools ranked in every preseason Top 25 ranking — Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Kentucky and Ole Miss. They also have a tricky opener in Memphis, who beat them in 2021. 

So while Leach recently sent a preposterously silly tweet about expanding the college football playoff, perhaps the focus in 2022 should be beating Ole Miss first. If the Mississippi State Bulldogs want to reach the eight-win plateau for the first time since 2018 it would behoove them to open the season 4-0 (which means a win at LSU) and then snap their recent winless streak in the Egg Bowl. 

On3’s SEC Stock Report Series:

Auburn Tigers

Arkansas Razorbacks

Florida Gators

Georgia Bulldogs

Kentucky Wildcats

Vanderbilt Commodores

Missouri Tigers

Tennessee Volunteers