STARKVILLE — No Mississippi State football game this season has been decided by 14 or fewer points.
The Bulldogs’ closest game was a 31-16 loss to LSU on Sept. 17. MSU has won by as many as 31 points, which took place the following week against Bowling Green; other margins of victory were 26, 22, 18 and 23 points.
That gives Mississippi State an average scoring margin of plus-17.5 points, tied for the 15th best nationally. In wins alone, the Bulldogs’ average margin is 24 points.
Coach Mike Leach detailed Monday how MSU has made a leap from last season, although he noted there’s still room for improvement.
“We’re finishing runs better than we did last year, but we can certainly do better,” Leach said. “We’re blocking at the second level better than we did last year, but we can certainly do better. We’re playing faster than we did last year, but we can certainly play faster.”
Mississippi State’s average scoring margin in 2021 was just plus-3.15 points. Through six games last year, the Bulldogs were getting outscored by 26 points in total — 4.33 per game.
Of course, MSU’s sixth game last year was against Alabama, a 49-9 loss. This year’s team has yet to play Alabama, Georgia or Ole Miss.
But although the quality of competition will increase, Leach said there’s still plenty left in the tank for the Bulldogs this year.
“You’re talking about every position on the team getting a little bit more, and you’re constantly trying to pull slack out of the rope,” Leach said. “If each position gets a little better, then the team gets a lot better. I do think we’ve got quite a ways to go.”
Bulldogs racking up interceptions
Part of the reason for that improved offense is a ball-hawking defense.
Mississippi State is tied for 14th in FBS with eight interceptions in just six games. The Bulldogs are tops in the Southeastern Conference — tied with South Carolina — in that category.
Cornerback Emmanuel Forbes is doing a ton of damage by himself, of course. Only two players — Clark Phillips III of Utah and Bentlee Sanders of Nevada — have more than Forbes’ four interceptions.
Forbes’ four picks have accounted for 33 return yards, and the cornerback had a 33-yard pick-six against Texas A&M on Oct. 1.
The Bulldogs rank 13th nationally with 140 interception return yards.
It’s not just interceptions, either: Mississippi State has forced 12 turnovers, tied for the most in the SEC and 14th best in FBS football.
Kicking struggles continue
Leach said earlier this season he himself might hold his own against Mississippi State’s struggling kickers.
While the Bulldogs coach later said Ben Raybon overtook him in the competition after a strong game, Leach might be back in the mix.
Raybon missed a 40-yard field goal in the second quarter against Arkansas and missed his final extra point of the game.
MSU has made just 27 of 31 extra points this season, an 87.1 percent mark that ranks fifth-worst in the country. Only East Carolina has missed more extra points (five) than have the Bulldogs.
“I don’t think they finish in the right spot,” Leach said of his kickers. “It’s like if you throw the ball and your arm is over here, the ball is probably going to go over there. I think it’s about as easy as that.
“I think we need to start hitting those, otherwise we’ll just go for two all the time,” he added.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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