Will Rogers throws 6 TDs to rally Mississippi State to record comeback vs Auburn

Andy Kostka
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

AUBURN, Ala. — Makai Polk popped up, the ball still in his grasp, and brought his finger to his lips, shushing the Auburn student section.

They didn’t need to be told. Polk’s second touchdown catch of the day had quieted Jordan-Hare Stadium on its own.

Mississippi State football entered the locker room for halftime as a team well on its way to a blowout loss, even with Polk’s first score late in the second quarter. But when the Bulldogs retook the field for the second half, everything that went wrong early began to flip against No. 20 Auburn.

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And then Polk reeled in another touchdown pass from quarterback Will Rogers — one of his six TDs as part of his 415-yard passing day — to take the lead in a game MSU once trailed by 25 points.

In the season opener against Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State set a program record with a 20-point comeback win. The Bulldogs set a new record Saturday, overcoming that 25-point hole to beat the Tigers, 43-34, in a thoroughly dominant game from Rogers to secure bowl eligibility.

Will Rogers dominates

Rogers, like many players on Mississippi State (6-4, 4-3 SEC), had a muted first half. But in the second half, Rogers lit up Auburn’s defense, passing for 271 yards in the final two quarters along with five second-half touchdown passes against the Tigers (6-4, 3-3).

That performance put Rogers in a league of his own. He set the Mississippi State single-game touchdown passing record with six scores. He threw for 415 yards and completed 17 straight passes at one point — another program record. And he did it while completing 44 of 55 attempts.

In his second season as a starter, Rogers has shown this sort of dominance. He has  taken care of the football, and apart from one near-interception in the first quarter, the Brandon native avoided any giveaways.

Kicking almost passed the test

Nolan McCord entered in relief of kicker Brandon Ruiz late in last week’s loss to Arkansas, and he missed the potential game-tying 40-yard field goal — his fourth miss in eight attempts before Saturday.

Ruiz had missed two kicks earlier in that game. Those three shanks prompted coach Mike Leach to pursue an open tryout to find a kicking solution among the student masses. But even that extreme measure wouldn’t have changed anything Saturday; the tryout is next week, and the NCAA paperwork will take time process.

That left McCord to start for the Bulldogs, with Ruiz missing the trip to Auburn. And after a week of uncertainty and little outward displays of support, McCord came through when needed. He hit a 34-yarder in the first quarter — an attempt backed up five yards because of a delay of game — and hit each extra point, including one that was pushed back 10 yards for a holding call.

Still, McCord hit a 40-yarder off the upright late to prevent a perfect day.

For the defense, a tale of two halves

Kobe Hudson only had one hand free, his other caught in cornerback Martin Emerson’s grasp as they raced down the sideline.

But the Auburn wide receiver only needed that one hand to snag quarterback Bo Nix’s second touchdown pass late in the second quarter, another big play against a defense incapable of stopping such spurts in the first half.

For as poor as the Tigers looked last week against Texas A&M — managing 226 yards and three points across 70 plays — the yards and points racked up in a hurry against a Bulldogs defense that fell flat from the first possession. Auburn hadn’t scored a touchdown in six quarters entering Saturday. The Tigers needed just five plays to buck that streak and finished the half with 325 yards and 28 points.

But everything changed in the second half. The room that allowed Auburn to break off big gains shrunk, and the Tigers managed just seven second-half points.

After scoring on their first four possessions, the Tigers couldn’t get on the board again until late in the fourth quarter.