STARKVILLE — Mike Leach opened his postgame press conference by flicking away an insect on the table in front of him.
Mississippi State dealt with Tennessee State in much the same fashion Saturday.
Will Rogers threw five touchdown passes as the Bulldogs (7-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) romped over the Tigers (5-6, 3-3 Ohio Valley) by a score of 55-10 at Davis Wade Stadium.
“I think it was kind of a tough time to play us and not such a bad time to play them,” Leach said.
Austin Williams caught three touchdown passes from Rogers, who finished 28 of 34 for 391 yards and five scores. Rogers also hit Makai Polk and Malik Heath for touchdowns.
The sophomore quarterback broke Dak Prescott’s single-season records for passing touchdowns and passing yards on his first and second drives in the first quarter.
“Anytime to have your name in the same company as Dak Prescott, it’s pretty incredible,” Rogers said. “I never really imagined that would happen.”
Rogers’ 21-yard toss to Williams to cap a strong opening drive was the sophomore signal-caller’s 30th touchdown of the year, while an 8-yard pass to Jamire Calvin on the second series pushed him over the 3,793 passing yards Prescott posted in 2015. Rogers finished the game with 4,113 yards with one regular-season game and a bowl game still to go.
He threw six touchdowns to no interceptions last week at Auburn to lead the Bulldogs to a 25-point comeback. He owns 34 touchdown passes and eight interceptions this year.
Rogers had three touchdowns of 30 yards or more — a 30-yard toss to Williams, a 56-yard catch-and-run score by Heath and a 50-yard deep shot to Polk. Williams’ first three catches of the game were all touchdown grabs.
“It felt awesome,” Williams said. “It just worked out kind of that way today. I had a couple of opportunities. Will threw some really good balls.”
Polk finished with nine catches for 110 yards in an offensive explosion for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs totaled 600 yards, racked up 23 first downs and averaged 9.8 yards per play.
Tennessee State, meanwhile, couldn’t get anything going on offense for much of its season finale. The Tigers got on the scoreboard with a 43-yard field goal by James Lowery in the fourth quarter after being shut out for more than 48 minutes.
Micheal Mitchell had a 5-yard touchdown run with 3:03 left for TSU.
But that was all against the Bulldogs’ reserves on defense. Defensive tackle Nathan Pickering, who started over Cameron Young at nose guard, said he enjoyed watching little-used players take the field Saturday.
“It’s kind of annoying sitting out there and getting a little stiff and all, but my boys are going out there and other guys who haven’t been playing, so it’s fun just to watch,” Pickering said.
Mississippi State’s defense limited the Tigers to 205 total yards, sacked a pair of quarterbacks four times in all and racked up a whopping 12 tackles for loss. Pickering had two sacks and two TFLs, while Tyrus Wheat had the other two sacks and blew up three plays for a loss.
Tennessee State started Chayil Garnett at quarterback in place of the injured Geremy Hickbottom, but Garnett was pulled after going 10 of 16 for just 42 yards. Deveon Bryant finished 9 of 11 for 128 yards.
Fifty-five of those yards came on a deep ball to Cam Wyche on the first play of the fourth quarter, setting the Tigers up at the 3-yard line. But Bryant fumbled on the next play, and Mississippi State linebacker Jett Johnson recovered to preserve the shutout — for another three minutes, at least.
It was yet another sign the Tigers were no match for the Bulldogs, who won for the fourth time in five games and the fifth time in seven contests. MSU started 2-2 with losses to Memphis and LSU before reeling off wins against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Auburn prior to Saturday’s game.
“I just think we’re getting better,” Leach said. “We’re a different team than we were early in the season.”
Just how different will be measured at 6:30 p.m. Thursday when Mississippi State hosts Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl rivalry game. The Bulldogs lost 31-24 last Nov. 28 in Oxford.
“It’s huge,” Rogers said. “It’s the biggest game of the year every year.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.