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Brian Hadad
Texas A&M Football

Reliable QB play key to anticipated year-two bump for Bulldogs under Leach

July 16, 2021

Anticipate Mississippi State posting more than the four victories the Bulldogs managed last football season.

Coach Mike Leach’s teams typically show progress in their second year. Leach’s second team at Washington State improved from three to six wins.

Also, many players in key roles now have experienced the rigors of the Southeastern Conference. Nine Mississippi State freshmen debuted and 27 players saw their first collegiate action in 2020.

One of those freshmen was quarterback Will Rogers. He took over the reins of Leach’s offense near the midway point of last season and went on to pass for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns. He completed at least 30 passes in a four-game stretch from Nov. 7 to Oct. 12.

Still, there remains some question about his prowess. Quarterbacks in Leach’s pass-oriented offense always post gaudy statistics. Also, Rogers passed for fewer than 150 yards in four games against defenses that ranked 70th or better against the pass.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Will Rogers is expected to be the starting quarterback heading into 2021.

Rogers has decent receivers with which to work. Jo’quavious Marks showed some promise at running back as a true freshman.

However, the offensive line is a major area of concern. Despite the presence of heralded tackle Charles Cross, the Bulldogs allowed an SEC-high 34 sacks in 2020 and didn’t run effectively.

Doubts also persist in the defensive front seven. Nose tackle Jaden Crumedy is the only returnee on the line. While linebackers Tyrus Wheat and Aaron Brule return, the loss of tough inside linebacker Erroll Thompson won’t be easily filled.

The secondary figures to be better than last year when 23 touchdown passes were surrendered. That’s because junior cornerback Martin Merson and sophomore Emmanuel Forbes — like so many other Bulldogs — are in their second years as starters.

Mississippi State

  • Head coach: Mike Leach
  • 2020 record: 4-7
  • Postseason result: Defeated Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, 28-26

Returning starters: Offense (8); Defense (8)

Area of strength: The secondary projects to be bolstered from the inconsistent group of 2020. Cornerbacks Emmanuel Forbes and Martin Emerson are all-conference candidates. Last year, Forbes was named Freshman All-SEC. Emerson was credited with 11 passes broken up. Fred Peters and C.J. Morgan head a list of experienced safeties. Texas transfer Jalen Green is seen as a potential starter. At the very least, he’ll provide depth.

Area of concern: Quarterback play is vital in coach Mike Leach’s offense. There still appears some uncertainty as to what the Bulldogs actually have at that position. Will Rogers had some excellent outings as a true freshman but struggled against good pass defenses. If struggles continue, the Bulldogs will turn to Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham or four-star rated freshman Sawyer Robertson.

Significant losses: DT Marquiss Spencer (seventh-round NFL draft pick); RB Kylin Hill (seventh-round NFL draft pick); LB Erroll Thompson (NFL free agent); DE Kobe Jones (NFL free agent); OL Greg Eiland (NFL free agent).

Key additions: S Jalen Green (transfer from Texas); QB Jack Abraham (transfer from Southern Miss); WR Makai Polk (transfer from Cal); DL Randy Charlton (transfer from UCF).

Top three players

  • OL Charles Cross: Third-year sophomore earned Freshman All-SEC recognition in 2020. Big and agile, he’s projected by some scouts as a first-round draft choice.
  • LB Aaron Brule: A smart and active tackler, Brule posted 4 sacks and was credited with 10 pressures in 2020.
  • WR Jaden Walley: Earned second-team Freshman All-American acclaim in 2020. He led the Bulldogs with 52 catches for 718 yards and accumulated 100 or more receiving yards in four games.

2021 schedule

  • Sept. 4 vs. Louisiana Tech
  • Sept. 11 vs. NC State
  • Sept. 18 at Memphis
  • Sept. 25 vs. LSU
  • Oct. 2 AT TEXAS A&M
  • Oct. 16 vs. Alabama
  • Oct. 23 at Vanderbilt
  • Oct. 30 vs. Kentucky
  • Nov. 6 at Arkansas
  • Nov. 13 at Auburn
  • Nov. 20 vs. Tennessee State
  • Nov. 27 vs. Ole Miss

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Reliable QB play key to anticipated year-two bump for Bulldogs under Leach

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