STARKVILLE — If a single game was a launching point for Mississippi State football expectations in 2022, it was the Texas A&M game a year ago.
Quarterback Will Rogers was calm within the Kyle Field storm.
He completed 46 of 59 passes (77.9 percent) for 408 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, and the Bulldogs defeated the 15th-ranked Aggies 26-22.
Before that game, Mississippi State had been inconsistent on offense in wins against Louisiana Tech and North Carolina State and was coming off back-to-back losses in winnable games at Memphis and at home against LSU.
The Bulldogs had to absorb a lopsided loss against Alabama the next week but after that won three out of four and had their chances to win at Arkansas.
The A&M game was really the first validation of a climbing program.
It’s not surprising that Rogers would shine in such a game.
It was surprising that he did not shine at LSU two weeks ago, and so it is that the Tigers for a second straight year are the point of frustration MSU hopes to bury as A&M arrives on the schedule.
Yes, there was a 45-14 win over Bowling Green last week, but when you leave a Southeastern Conference win on the table, nothing scratches the itch except winning another SEC game.
Little about the passing game looked good in Baton Rouge.
That changed against Bowling Green, of course. Perhaps the Bulldogs can take timing and renewed confidence from that 45-14 win into the first game of a brutal October schedule.
MSU coach Mike Leach hopes to see the Rogers he saw in College Station last year when things get under way at 3 p.m. Saturday.
“He just kind of focused on his job, that was the good thing,” Leach said. “He didn’t try to make too much out of it, just focused on the next play and his job. The discipline to do that was good. It was a place where communication was tough because it’s really loud. I thought the calmer he played, the calmer our offensive unit played.”
LSU wasn’t one of Rogers’ better performances.
His completion percentage was 57.1 (24 of 42); he held the ball too long on a sack. State scored only two touchdowns, one of them a 37-yard run by Woody Marks.
Leach in his LSU postgame called Rogers inconsistent and said he “could have gotten us out of some situations.”
Rogers’ Houdini ability in Baton Rouge was complicated by about a half-dozen drops by receivers.
Had that number been one or two, then that game could have looked a lot different.
But it didn’t, and now the Bulldogs face the Aggies coming off a big win.
They need to blunt A&M’s momentum and create some for themselves to recapture the high expectations and buzz the program felt not long ago.
Maybe somewhere within the Bowling Green game confidence returned for Rogers as well as growth for his receivers. Maybe the passing game becomes Rogers fine-tuning his relationship with fewer receivers within the group.
There’s a path, and the Bulldogs need to find it.
They need Saturday in Starkville to look a lot like 2021 in College Station.
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