Why we gave Mississippi State football a D on special teams in loss to LSU

Andy Kostka
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE — As Mississippi State football has made a habit of doing, the Bulldogs needed a late comeback attempt to make a game interesting.

And as has been the case for the last two weeks, that comeback attempt fell short in a 28-25 loss to LSU on Saturday.

The Bulldogs (2-2, 0-1 SEC) missed opportunities early, entering halftime with three trips into LSU (3-1, 1-0) territory but coming away with just three points because of an interception and fumble. Mississippi State came alive late, with quarterback Will Rogers finding Austin Williams and Malik Heath for two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

TAKEAWAYS:Big plays, turnovers haunt Mississippi State football in 28-25 loss to LSU Tigers

HIGHLIGHTS:Mississippi State vs. LSU Tigers college football video highlights, score

But like Memphis last week, LSU had a large enough lead to weather that late flurry of offensive activity, setting Mississippi State up with consecutive losses before facing Texas A&M and Alabama.

Here’s how we graded the Bulldogs.

Offense: C

Once again, Mississippi State’s offense woke up when trailing by a considerable margin. Rogers found Makai Polk for a 29-yard score late in the third quarter, the Bulldogs’ first trip to the end zone. But two first-half turnovers and three points combined at the end of two 14-play drives played a role in LSU building a lead Mississippi State couldn’t come back from.

Defense: C

Zach Arnett’s defense had largely cut out the sort of big plays that nagged the unit last season, serving as the brightest part for Mississippi State. But those big plays returned against LSU, giving up touchdowns of 41, 58 and 64 yards.

Special teams: D

Nolan McCord missed a 33-yard field goal attempt at the end of a 14-play drive in the first half, but that wasn’t the largest mishap in this unit. The defense made a critical third-down stop early in the fourth quarter to force an LSU punt, but a personal foul on Rodney Groce for attempting to leap the punt shield wall led to an automatic first down — and LSU turned that new set of downs into a touchdown three plays later.

Coaching: C

The clock management from coach Mike Leach was poor. Before halftime, check downs drained any remaining time needed for a late heave. And as Mississippi State pushed to make a comeback in the fourth quarter, the hurry-up offense lacked much of the hurry-up required to complete a comeback.

Overall: C-

Mississippi State opened SEC play with a dud. The turnovers on offense in the first half added to that unit’s issues, but the inability to score once in the red zone also played a role. Then the defense had too many breakdowns.

While the Bulldogs outgained the Tigers, those miscues early cost the team late. They pushed, scoring twice in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough.