Mississippi State Football: Grading the Bulldogs at the Halfway Point

Mississippi State sits at the halfway mark of the 2021 season with a record of 3-3 (1-2 SEC). Two of the Bulldogs‘ wins have come against current Top-25 teams in NC State and Texas A & A&M. However, disappointing losses to struggling Memphis and LSU have kept Mississippi State from exceeding expectations through the campaign’s first half.

Consistency has been one of the biggest problems so far for Mike Leach’s team. The Bulldogs have looked good at times and bad at others. It’s still tricky through six games to get a read on the type of team Mississippi State is.

Here’s how I would grade the first half of the season:

Offense: C-

The Air Raid has shown significant improvements in the second year of the Mike Leach era. However, the Bulldog offense still has a long way to go. That was evident in Saturday’s 49-9 loss to Alabama. The Bulldogs failed to score a touchdown against the Tide for the second straight year.

The offense has had success gaining yards and moving the ball down the field. Scoring touchdowns has been a different story. Mississippi State has had to settle for field goals after solid drives come to a screeching halt near the endzone.

Makai Polk has been the star of the offense through six games. Polk leads the team with 53 catches for 489 yards and four touchdowns. He has been Will Rogers’ go-to wideout, and for a good reason.

Will Rogers has been solid and consistently improving throughout the first half of the season. Rogers leads the SEC with 2,162 yards through the air. He’s completing an impressive 74% of his passes while throwing for 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.

I give the offense a C- mainly because of the lack of consistency, leading to a grade somewhere in the middle. The Bulldogs have shown that they can move the ball with ease, but there have been stretches in just about every game where the offense is entirely out of sync.

Defense: B-

Zach Arnett’s defense returned a lot from a season ago, so the expectations were high for this unit. After struggling against Louisiana Tech in the opener, the defense has found its footing and played well enough to keep Mississippi State in some games.

Jett Johnson has led the way with 47 tackles for a very balanced defense. Fred Peters and Emmanuel Forbes have been stable in the backend, each hauling in two interceptions so far.

I grade the defense a B- because I think the group has been playing at an above-average level and continues to be the better side of the ball for the Bulldogs. Big plays have burnt the defense more so than last year, but all in all, the group has been a bright spot.

Special Teams: D

Special teams have played an important role for State in the early going. Tulu Griffin‘s kick return against Louisiana Tech sparked the comeback victory, and his touchdown return the following week set the tone in a 24-10 win over NC State.

On the flip side, several special teams’ blunders have cost the Bulldogs big time. The Memphis debacle sticks out. The costly penalty where a player jumped over the punt protection allowed LSU to keep a drive alive. The Tigers eventually scored a touchdown on that drive to go up three scores in the fourth quarter.

The kicking game became a chore due to an injury to Brandon Ruiz. Backup Nolan McCord went 4-7 filling in for Ruiz, going 0-2 on field goals of 40-plus yards. Ruiz returned to action against Alabama, where he went a perfect 3-3. Having him back will be huge in close games going forward.

 

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