Mississippi State football blows past NC State behind a stout defensive performance

Andy Kostka
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE — If NC State had any glimmer of hope left Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium, it left in a hurry, in the form of a corner blitz on fourth-and-21.

Mississippi State football’s defense had been dominant throughout the 24-10 win, but the Bulldogs needed one last stop to put the contest to bed with about six minutes remaining. So cornerback Emmanuel Forbes blitzed off the edge, came up on Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary in a hurry and pulled him down for the sack.

Then Forbes leaped up, waved his arms and was met by his teammates, a punctuation mark of sorts on a performance that flushed any concerns from Mississippi State’s season-opening come-from-behind win against Louisiana Tech. While the Bulldogs (2-0) looked down and out at times last weekend, they were in control from the opening kickoff.

Here are five takeaways from the strong performance against NC State (1-1).

Will Rogers spreads the offense to nine receivers

Sep 11, 2021; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) makes a pass against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field.

The beginning of Saturday’s game had shades of the second and third quarters against Louisiana Tech, with the offense unable to move the ball. The Bulldogs went three-and-out on their first three possessions, managing 5 yards across those nine plays.

REPORT CARD:How we graded Mississippi State football for beating NC State

But quarterback Will Rogers got going in a hurry, rattling off 10 straight completions at one point in the second quarter. He found wide receiver Malik Heath for a 21-yard score, and he added another touchdown to Jaden Walley later.

Rogers finished by completing 33 of 49 passes for 294 yards, and he found nine different receivers with those attempts.

Pressure on the QB

Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett said this week one thing he’d like to change from the Louisiana Tech game was the lack of a major pass rush. The Bulldogs managed one sack in that game — and that was by rule due to an intentional grounding call.

Mississippi State recorded four sacks against NC State. Leary was hurried five times, and he fumbled when he was hit from behind in the third quarter.

That pass rush kept Leary off balance, finishing 30-of-46 with 303 passing yards and a late touchdown pass. During the week, Arnett noted how NC State showed it could run the ball well and hurt South Florida in the passing game. On Saturday, the Wolfpack couldn’t get either going.

Gutsy fourth-down call

Mike Leach’s offense struggled to find a rhythm for much of the first half, so the Mississippi State coach tried to force the issue. He kept his offense on the field midway through the second quarter for a fourth-and-1.

It didn’t work. NC State smelled out the dump-off pass to running back Jo’quavious Marks, who was leveled by cornerback Shyheim Battle for a 2-yard loss.

But that result didn’t stop Leach from keeping his offense on the field late in the second quarter, facing a fourth-and-7, and Leach’s willingness to gamble paid off in a big way. Rogers fired a back-shoulder pass to wideout Makai Polk for a 13-yard gain, setting up a 21-yard touchdown to Malik Heath later in the drive.

Without Leach’s willingness to be aggressive, Mississippi State would’ve ended the first half without an offensive score.

More kick return punch

The Bulldogs won the coin toss and elected to receive. That proved to be a prudent decision.

For the second time this season, returner Lideatrick Griffin made a key play. While Griffin was caught after a 70-yard return last week against Louisiana Tech, Griffin found the end zone this time around, breaking a 100-yard return for a score before Mississippi State’s offense stepped on the field.

Griffin returned Mississippi State’s first kickoff for a touchdown since 2015, and it was just the fifth in program history.

His return was pivotal because the offense scuffled out of the gates, going three-and-out on three straight possessions. But they still held an advantage thanks to Griffin — and several key blocks — that gave some cushion before Leach’s offense hit a stride.

Kicker change

As the second half started, Mississippi State kicker Brandon Ruiz wasn’t the one blasting the ball off. Instead, Scott Goodman took over those duties. And redshirt freshman Nolan McCord took over field goal kicking for Ruiz, who left with an apparent injury.

Ruiz returned to the sideline in the second half in street clothes. The senior converted 10 of 12 attempts last season and missed a 52-yard attempt against Louisiana Tech. He’s converted all of his extra points, though, including two in the first half against NC State.

McCord converted his lone extra point and hit a 32-yarder in the fourth, his first attempt in college.