Grading Mississippi State football's loss vs. Georgia: Special teams can't carry offense

Stefan Krajisnik
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football was the latest SEC foe to see what the reigning champion No. 1 Georgia was about.

MSU ( 6-4, 3-4 SEC) saw why UGA (10-0, 7-0) is primed for a repeat run.

The 45-19 win for Georgia clinched an SEC East title. For Mississippi State, it was a reminder of the difficulty of beating the nation's top team. MSU hasn't beaten a top-ranked team since 1980.

Here's how we graded the performance of Mike Leach's squad.

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Offense: D

Mississippi State’s 40-17 win against Arkansas on Oct. 8 feels as though it was many seasons ago. MSU hasn’t put together a consistent offensive performance since, and Georgia, perhaps the nation’s top defense, wasn’t going to let that change.

Seven points for MSU came on a punt return. Another seven came after a Tyrus Wheat interception set the offense up just outside the red zone.

Quarterback Will Rogers was too conversative at times, looking for a short pass while players down field appeared to be open.

Defense: C

Often in MSU’s losses, the defense keeps the team in the game before ultimately folding. Some of that could be due to offensive struggles giving the defense little time to catch its breath on the sidelines.

Some of it may be due to not enough substituting early in games causing fatigue late. Georgia’s up-tempo offense created some of that.

Georgia had little issue generating big plays against Zach Arnett’s unit, but a couple of interceptions and a fumble that should have been awarded gave MSU chances.

Nov 12, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA;  Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Zavion Thomas (87) reacts after a touchdown on a punt return against the Georgia Bulldogs during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams: A

Rarely does the third phase deliver the best performance for MSU, but such was the case against Georgia.

Zavion Thomas’ 63-yard punt return late in the first half gave MSU a needed spark.

Even kicking was strong for MSU, with Massimo Biscardi making both field goal attempts. He was the only source of points for MSU before Thomas’ return, which meant all of Mississippi State’s first-half points were a result of special teams.

Coaching: C

This is Leach’s offense, so the blame falls on him. The opening drives of each half were disappointing, eliminating any chance of throwing Georgia off.

Perhaps the low point for Leach on the night came in the second quarter. MSU had goal-to-go from the 5-yard line. Leach called two passes that fell incomplete. He finally decided to run on third down, which fell short of the end zone. MSU had to settle for a field goal.

Overall: C-

Mississippi State has had some ugly losses against teams such as Kentucky and LSU, and this one was far from pretty.

However, many teams have gone against Georgia and put up worse performances. The talent on Kirby Smart’s sideline was superior, and the visitors didn’t make enough mistakes to let MSU into it.

Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at skrajisnik@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @skrajisnik3.