Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers notably broke two of Dak Prescott’s single-season school records in the first quarter Saturday against Tennessee State.
But another part of Rogers’ performance in the Bulldogs’ 55-10 win over the Tigers was overlooked.
The sophomore signal-caller posted by far his most efficient game of the season, throwing for 391 yards on just 34 attempts. That shakes out to a yards-per-attempt mark of 11.5, Rogers’ best showing of the season by more than 2.5 yards per throw.
Facing an opponent like Tennessee State should result in a performance like the one Rogers had — complete with five touchdowns and no interceptions — but it’s the latest good result in a positive trend for the Brandon High School product.
Rogers has posted 7.5 or more yards per attempt in each of the Bulldogs’ past four games. He hadn’t done so since the Sept. 4 season opener against Louisiana Tech.
Against Kentucky, Rogers had a YPA of 8.82; against Arkansas, it was 8.69. The number dipped to 7.54 against Auburn, but Rogers unquestionably had a great game with 415 yards, six touchdown passes and no picks.
His YPA mark for the season is tied for 79th among FBS quarterbacks at 7.2, so Rogers has a ways to go. Mississippi State’s offense is built on short, quick throws, so he doesn’t take a ton of downfield shots but has been fairly accurate when trying them.
But recent performances signal improvement from the Bulldogs’ quarterback. And with the way the offense has been operating of late, that’s a scary sight for opponents.
Bulldogs not blessed with fumble luck
Mississippi State lost two of its three fumbles Saturday against Tennessee State.
Jaden Walley fumbled on a punt return, but the football went out of bounds, and the Bulldogs kept possession.
But Makai Polk coughed up the ball on a screen pass, and J.J. Jernighan lost a fumble shortly after Tennessee State fumbled the ball near the goal line.
The Bulldogs have lost seven of their 10 fumbles on offense, making them one of the unluckiest teams in the country in that regard. With 70 percent of fumbles lost, MSU is tied with Iowa, Pittsburgh and Texas Tech at No. 120 out of 130 FBS teams.
It’s not much better on defense, where the Bulldogs have recovered just five of their opponents’ 14 fumbles. That 35.71 percent recovery rate is tied with BYU for No. 105 in the country.
Only Duke is below Mississippi State in both categories.
If there is any consolation for the Bulldogs, they don’t fumble often. Even after Saturday’s game, Mississippi State is tied for the 26th-fewest fumbles this season.
Nowhere to run?
Most teams can’t run on Mississippi State.
But most teams don’t really try.
Mississippi State has the seventh-best rushing defense in FBS, giving up just 96.36 yards per game, but that comes on just 28.91 attempts per game. That’s the second-fewest tries per game, behind only Army (28.70).
By contrast, opponents have attempted 339 pass plays against the Bulldogs, tied for the 58th fewest in the nation.
It makes for a bit of a catch-22: Do teams not run on Mississippi State because the Bulldogs have a good run defense, or do the Bulldogs have a good run defense because teams don’t run on Mississippi State?
Average yards per carry hints at the first answer. The Bulldogs allow 3.33 yards per attempt, which is tied for 15th in the country. Not only do opponents not run much against MSU, but they don’t do it very well.
Mississippi State’s pass defense ranks 68th in total yards at 229.7, but the Bulldogs are tied for 76th in yards per attempt allowed. The disparity is in part because MSU allows opponents to run fewer plays than all but seven other teams because of its seventh-ranked time of possession.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.