STARKVILLE — Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers went 9 for 18 in Saturday’s scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium, tossing two touchdown passes and one interception.
That final statistic matters to Rogers most as the Bulldogs progress through preseason camp.
“I don’t really want to turn the ball over, and I don’t want sacks,” Rogers said Tuesday. “I could probably go 0 for 20, and if we don’t have a turnover or a sack, we’ll have a good day.”
Of course, an 0-for-20 showing come the regular season won’t fly, and Rogers knows it. The junior signal-caller is stressing consistency — for himself as well as his teammates — before MSU’s season opens at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 3 against Memphis.
“As an offensive unit, we have to become more consistent, so we all have to take the next step,” Rogers said.
That starts with the man under center — or, more often, taking shotgun snaps in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. Rogers put together an impressive junior season, executing Leach’s scheme with few mistakes.
He threw for 4,739 yards and 36 touchdowns against just nine interceptions in 2021, taking the Bulldogs’ starting job and running with it as a sophomore.
But there were bad games mixed in. Rogers threw for only 300 yards despite 55 attempts Oct. 16 against Alabama, getting sacked seven times and tossing three picks and no touchdown passes.
In the Liberty Bowl, Texas Tech also forced Rogers into a rough game — a 32-of-53 performance for 290 yards, one interception and his worst quarterback rating of the season. Mississippi State was missing 18 players because of COVID-19 protocols, but the Bulldogs were whipped 34-7.
Neither the game against the Red Raiders nor the contest with the Tide was close, but that hasn’t stopped Rogers from thinking about missed opportunities in 2021.
“I obviously want so many plays back from last year, but this is a profession where you don’t really get plays back, so you have to be ready to go in the moment,” Rogers said.
Relying on an impressive list of offensive weapons could help Rogers find the consistency he seeks.
Favorite target Makai Polk is off to the NFL, but Austin Williams, Jaden Walley, Jamire Calvin, Rara Thomas and Christian Ford are among the Bulldogs’ returnees.
Walley came in with Rogers as a freshman in 2020 and could be poised for a big junior season.
“It sounds so cliché to say, but it seems like if the ball finds him, he has a big play coming,” Rogers said. “He has to just do a good job of running his routes hard, getting open and catching the ball.”
Thomas, meanwhile, came on strong as a freshman with five touchdowns in the latter half of the 2021 season. Like Rogers, consistency has been an issue, but the Alabama native shows promise.
“Last year, he was a freshman, but he really didn’t play like a freshman,” Rogers said of Thomas. “I don’t know how many touchdowns he had, but it seemed like every time he caught a ball, it could have gone for a touchdown.”
Rogers’ new toys at wide receiver have been impressive thus far. The Bulldogs quarterback praised both Northwestern transfer Jordan Mosley and Georgia import Justin Robinson for the strides they’ve taken during camp.
Both players arrived in the spring, and Rogers said he expected them to receive playing time this fall.
“They’re two guys who came in in the spring and were just kind of getting their feet wet, learning the system, learning the calls and things like that,” Rogers said. “Throughout summer, throughout camp, they’ve done a really good job of learning where to be, where the ball’s going to find them at.”
It’s not just at receiver where a typically pass-happy offense can find success.
Rogers commended the skill of running backs Jo’quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson, saying some of Mississippi State’s best offensive packages include both players.
The duo totaled 901 yards last season as MSU ran less than any team in FBS.
“We can throw the ball all we want, but at the end of the day, if we get those guys the ball in space, I think we’re doing a pretty good job on offense,” Rogers said.
It’s tough to gauge the Bulldogs’ offensive prowess against a stalwart defense that seems to come out on top more often than not in preseason camp.
Rogers called it “pretty fun” — if not easy — to deal with the pressures sent his way by defensive coordinator Zach Arnett.
“There’s guys in your lap,” Rogers said. “The bullets are really flying in front of you. It’s pretty wild. Coach Arnett does a great job. I love his scheme. I love how he gets his guys ready to play.”
Going against a defense of MSU’s caliber makes things difficult. It’s at least part of why the Bulldogs’ offense had its ups and downs in Saturday’s scrimmage.
But if MSU can keep improving, Rogers thinks his team will be ready for the grind ahead.
“I understand that it’s a process,” Rogers said. “Not every day or every scrimmage is going to be perfect, but sometimes you have to embrace the bad things to get through them. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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