The Mississippi State football team got back into the win column in a big way Saturday night in College Station, Texas.
The Bulldogs (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) pulled off a 26-22 road upset of No. 15 Texas A&M (3-2, 0-2) at Kyle Field.
In doing so, they seemed to further embrace the moniker bestowed on them by SEC Network commentator Cole Cubelic during Saturday’s broadcast: “the weirdest team in college football.”
Here are three statistics that show why Mississippi State has earned that status through five games.
Offense: Polk among receiving leaders
Wide receiver Makai Polk had his biggest game of the season Saturday, posting 13 catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
But his impact hasn’t been limited to one contest.
With 46 catches through five games, Polk ranks second in the nation, only two behind USC’s Drake London. (London is first in receiving yards with 670 while Polk is 29th with 430.)
Head coach Mike Leach recruited Polk at Washington State, and the wideout said he wanted to “catch a lot of balls.” At Mississippi State, he’s been doing precisely that.
“I think he’s a polished guy,” Leach said after Saturday’s game. “He was a polished receiver and route-runner when he got here. We were very lucky to get him.”
So is quarterback Will Rogers, who was named the SEC co-offensive player of the week after going 46 of 59 for 408 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Rogers ranks third in the country in passing yards and completion percentage.
Defense: Bulldogs hinder another opponent
For the second time this season, Mississippi State held its opponent under 300 total yards.
The Bulldogs allowed 162 rushing yards on 32 carries but held quarterback Zach Calzada to just 135 yards on 20 pass attempts in the upset win.
It’s the fourth time in five games Mississippi State has outgained its opponent. The Bulldogs have 2,143 total yards on offense to their foes’ 1,592, a testament to the success of second-year coordinator Zach Arnett’s defense.
And even in the lone contest in which MSU posted fewer yards, they beat North Carolina State 24-10. A fourth quarter that saw the Wolfpack outgain the Bulldogs 141-59 in an attempt for garbage-time touchdowns accounts for the 19-yard difference between the two teams.
But there’s still room to improve. Arnett’s defense is tied for 36th in the country in yards allowed; considering his lofty goals, he’d certainly deem that performance not good enough.
Special teams: Field goal woes kicking in
Starting kicker Brandon Ruiz has not seen game action since the first half Sept. 11 against NC State.
No reason has been given for Ruiz’s absence, but the fifth-year senior has been warming up the past two contests.
And now it seems like Mississippi State will need him back as soon as possible.
Ruiz missed his only field goal attempt of the season so far — a 52-yarder against Louisiana Tech in the opener — but backup kicker Nolan McCord has begun to struggle.
After making a 32-yard kick against NC State, a 39-yarder against Memphis and a 23-yarder against LSU, McCord has missed three of his past four kicks.
“We’ve got to be more consistent there,” Leach said.
McCord missed from 33 yards against LSU and missed from 46 and 49 yards at Texas A&M despite making a 24-yarder against the Aggies.
“They’re pretty long field goals, too, but you’d like to drain those things,” Leach said.
Overall, Mississippi State’s made field goal percentage of 50 percent is tied for 114th in the country. Only nine FBS teams have a worse mark.
Of course, Leach would prefer the Bulldogs never attempt any field goals. Mississippi State is 15 of 15 on extra points this season.
“You’d prefer to just score touchdowns and then kick extra points, and we’re pretty good at extra points,” Leach said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.