Mississippi State falls to Georgia but shows promise that brighter days could be just ahead

Joel Coleman

The pirate went down to Georgia. He was looking for a game to steal. He was in a bind, had to leave players behind, but he somehow almost sealed the deal.

Leading a team that went to battle with only 49 available scholarship players, Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach’s Bulldogs nearly pulled off a massive upset over Georgia’s breed. MSU suffered defeat, but put a mighty scare into the country’s 13th-ranked team before falling by a score of 31-24.

It was a close outcome that virtually no one could’ve foreseen. Mississippi State entered the contest struggling mightily. MSU was just 1-4 over its previous five games with the lone victory coming against winless Vanderbilt and an offense that had less than 295 total yards in four consecutive contests. All that along with severe roster limitations due to injuries, opt-outs, transfers or COVID-19 protocols and Saturday set up to be disastrous for Leach’s bunch. Instead, even in defeat, it perhaps served as an indicator that brighter days are ahead for the Leach era at MSU.

“I would say this team tonight played as hard and as well…with what your best is as any team I’ve ever had,” Leach said after the game. “I’ve had a lot of great teams. And we’ve beaten some teams and we’ve beaten some teams that probably we weren’t supposed to beat. But with regards to matching the best of your ability up to whatever the adversity may be, this team may have performed to that level higher than any other team I’ve coached. From that standpoint, I’m very proud of them.”

Make no mistake, this game indeed goes into the books as a loss for Mississippi State. Despite heading into the fourth quarter with a tie game and chance to win, MSU didn’t make the plays required to emerge victorious.

The maroon-and-white-clad Bulldogs couldn’t slow down Georgia quarterback J.T. Daniels, who passed for 401 yards and four touchdowns and burned the Mississippi State secondary with frequency. And though the MSU offensive line played about as well as it has all season, it broke down when it could least afford to, allowing its only two sacks of the game on a pair of fourth-quarter series as State was driving to try and tie the game.

Oh, but there was promise aplenty for Leach’s bunch. True freshman quarterback Will Rogers completed 41 of his 52 passes for 336 yards and a score. A handful of those passes were throws most wouldn’t expect out of a guy who was playing high school football this time a year ago. Other first-year MSU Bulldogs shined too. Receiver Jaden Walley hauled in seven passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. Running back Dillon Johnson rushed into the end zone a couple of times. The stage for the upset was set.

State led 3-0 after one quarter and was up 17-10 before Georgia evened things up just prior to halftime. The two teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter and in the fourth, Georgia finally went ahead for good when Daniels found Kearis Jackson for a 40-yard touchdown strike.

State couldn’t answer. MSU ran out of time. But for many of the players who made plays in the game to keep State in it to begin with, their time is really just beginning. Rogers, Walley, Johnson and more looked like a young bunch starting to jell.

Perhaps one day in the future, this game is looked back on as just another Mississippi State loss. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the spark that got the Leach era of Bulldog football going.

“We were very poised in this game I thought,” Leach said. “People held their head up. People were excited to be out there and compete. I think there was a lot to draw from this game and we need to use it to push us forward.”

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