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7. Mississippi State (4-8, 1-7)
Rankings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Running Backs: Fr
Wide Receivers: Av
Offensive Line: Fr
Defensive Line: Fr
Defensive Backs: Fr
Special Teams: Av
When Mississippi State opened the Mike Leach era with an upset of LSU in 2020, it made believers out of many that the Air Raid offense could find a home in the SEC. Then the Bulldogs went 1-7 in their next eight games, beating only Vanderbilt. This year may be an even rougher assignment for the Bulldogs, who lack explosiveness on offense and are replacing several departed key starters on defense.
Offense: What could go right
Given what has been shown in fall practices thus far, it would seem unless RB Jo’quavious Marks has a sudden breakout performance, and/or a couple of receivers suddenly step up to support Jaden Walley, it’s going to be a rough year. Marks was the team’s leading receiver in terms of catches in 2020, and did a passable job running the ball. He has the talent to take a leap forward. Quarterback Will Rogers showed flashes last year, but also threw way too many balls into traffic. The Bulldogs added a pair of graduate transfers to the mix, Southern Miss’ Jack Abraham and South Alabama’s Chance Lovertich, and Lovertich is pushing Rogers now for the starting job. Leach’s offense can create matchup problems – when it’s run correctly.
Offense: What could go wrong
The Bulldogs have problems on the offensive line. Other than LT Charles Cross, there are no proven players here. Alabama transfer Scott Lashley will probably start at right tackle. If he performs the way Alabama thought he would when Nick Saban signed him, the Bulldogs will be better at tackle in 2021, but the middle of the line is likely to struggle badly. Consistency is an issue for the entire offense; the wide receiver group, other than Walley, couldn’t get open, and when they did, couldn’t make yards after the catch. MSU’s passing game turned into nothing more than a dink-and-dunk plan and if defenses got pressure on the quarterback, the Bulldogs had no second act. Unfortunately it looks like this is set to continue.
Defense: What could go right
The secondary is either going to be really good, or really not. It depends greatly on Texas transfer Jalen Green and whether he can improve the dynamic at safety. MSU was woefully bad at safety in 2020, but Green had a solid spring and gives hope. The linebacker corps is more pesky than powerful, but Aaron Brule has a chance to be a very good one, possibly even great. The kicking game should be solid, and the Bulldogs have a little bit of depth to work with up front.
Defense: What could go wrong
The secondary, again. It’s a hand grenade with the pin pulled right now, and it remains to be seen whether Green can make it safe. If he can’t, or if Shawn Preston, Fred Peters and others can’t take a big step up, the Bulldogs won’t be able to compete. Things got worse recently when the best defensive lineman in camp, Jordan Davis, suffered a severe leg injury and looks to be out for the year. No one else has made a big impression; the Bulldogs need UCF transfer DE Randy Charlton to step up in Davis’ place, and a heralded signee of a couple of years ago, DT Nathan Pickering, to start to make good on his promise.
One-sentence summary: A group of try-hards that just don’t have the firepower to keep up.
The Leach experiment was undertaken in large part to create some national buzz. It was the kind of lottery-ticket hire that a program of Mississippi State’s stature can afford to make, but another season with twice the number of losses as wins, and the fans won’t want to wait much longer. The fact is, Mississippi State looked awfully easy to beat for much of 2020, and Leach didn’t change the roster enough in 2021 to make a substantive difference going forward.
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