| Mississippi Clarion Ledger
ATHENS, Ga. – Moral victories are hard to come by in college football, but Mississippi State might have had one Saturday night at Sanford Stadium.
No. 11 Georgia eventually made enough plays to down Mississippi State, 31-24, but the visiting team looked completely different than it had in its last five games going into Saturday.
A 25-point underdog, Mississippi State was one late fourth quarter drive away from taking Georgia to overtime. Here is how MSU graded out in its gutsy loss.
It all started up front.
For the first time in a long time, the Mississippi State offensive line played a complete game. The wide receivers had time to run their routes, and freshman quarterback Will Rogers had time to survey the field. The receivers and Rogers made good on the offensive line’s protection with solid outings all around.
While 358 yards often isn’t enough to win college football games in this era, it was a positive stride for a unit that had not reached that mark since Week 2’s loss against Arkansas. Most importantly, the passing game – which coach Mike Leach obviously takes much pride in – looked fluid and competent.
The Bulldogs are going to want the fourth-and-five play near midfield that sealed the game back, but just the fact that they were that close to continuing a potential game-tying drive in the waning minutes was enough to turn the tide and get a big ole ‘A’ on the report card.
It doesn’t matter how well you do against the run. If you give up too many prolific passing plays, you won’t get the grade you desire.
Mississippi State was magnificent against Georgia’s running game in holding the home ‘Dogs to eight yards on 23 carries, but MSU was every bit as bad against Georgia’s passing game in allowing junior quarterback JT Daniels, making his first appearance as a Bulldog, to throw for 401 yards.
The only reason Mississippi State does not receive a failing grade here is because MSU traveled to Athens with less than 60 available players, 49 of which are on scholarship. MSU warmed up with four cornerbacks. Depth was nearly nonexistent.
Mike Leach’s offense looked like Mike Leach’s offense, which must have been refreshing for Mississippi State fans.
Plenty of wide receiver screens were worked into the play calling, as were designed passes to running backs in the flat. Both were effective, especially early on. Mississippi State also had success with crossing routes, but again, a lot of that went back to the offensive line putting each play in good position to succeed.
However, offensive linemen aren’t in charge of getting a smaller group of players than normal focused and ready to compete. Whatever Leach and his assistants did throughout the week, in pregame and during the game must have worked. The Bulldogs looked engaged and ready to roll for the entirety of the night.
They nearly went into a place where they have not won since 1956 and took down a borderline top-10 team. Moral victories are tough to accept, but if Mississippi State didn’t get one Saturday, then they just don’t exist anywhere.
Contact Tyler Horka at [email protected] Follow @tbhorka on Twitter. To read more of Tyler’s work, subscribe to the Clarion Ledger today!