Mississippi State roundtable: Examining the Bulldogs’ win over Arizona Wildcats

STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI - SEPTEMBER 09: Will Rogers #2 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs looks to pass during the game against the Arizona Wildcats at Davis Wade Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI - SEPTEMBER 09: Will Rogers #2 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs looks to pass during the game against the Arizona Wildcats at Davis Wade Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

After the Mississippi State football team beat the Arizona Wildcats, we got some folks here at Maroon and White Nation together to chat about the game.

The Mississippi State football team was a bit underwhelming this past weekend. The Bulldogs simply did not do much that was exciting. And unfortunately, we got to witness a really close game against the Arizona Wildcats.

To help sort through all of that mess that was the game against Arizona, the good folks here at Maroon and White Nation sat down to chat about the game.

Here’s what we talked about:

Maroon and White Nation roundtable: Recapping Mississippi State football win vs. Arizona Wildcats

Ethan Lee: Alright. We’re all digesting the Mississippi State football game from this past weekend. I know we’ve got a lot of thoughts based off of our group chat. How are y’all feeling about that win? What’s the biggest takeaway for you from that game?

(I’m choosing to believe that new Mississippi State football offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay is a super genius who has a ton of new schemes hidden in the back of his head for the LSU game this next weekend)

Brooks Hill: OFFENSE: We are either really good and just haven’t straightened out the wrinkles, timing, and situational playcalling of this offense yet. OR. We are simply really bad schematically. Barbay needs to learn that Mike Wright is a momentum stopper as much as he is a momentum starter.

If we are running the ball effectively and have 2nd & 4/3rd & 1 with Will and Woody, there is no reason to change the entire mojo of the drive by throwing Mike Wright in there to run the most obvious read option on planet earth. Trust Will to distribute the ball, or use our very large offensive line to shift their defensive line, target their weak side and attack it.

Ethan Lee: That’s a really good point. The use of Mike Wright caused me to scratch my head a bit. It felt really odd to turn to him when MSU did. As a whole, the game plan surrounding the quarterbacks seemed clunky, at best. It felt like there was no real consistency for what State wanted to do at quarterback other than just hand the ball off to one of the running backs. Neither Will’s arm or Mike’s legs were used much in this game, which is a bit different from what we saw against Southeastern Louisiana.

Also, when are they going to let Mike throw a pass?

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Andrew Miller: I was glad to see Tulu have a big game, and I like how quickly our OL has picked up Wide Zone scheme we’re clearly going to build around. But otherwise, not much to be excited about on offense. Pass protection was a struggle, and predictable and conservative play-calling got us in bad spots.

On defense, thank God for Jett Johnson and thank God that Jayden de Laura is reckless. Because otherwise, we couldn’t get any pass rush and kept giving up easy completions. Run defense was good as usual, but that passing side concerns me a lot.

Ryan Strickland: Defensively, I believe our biggest concerns we shared earlier before the season started are our biggest issues. Pass rush and secondary. They have to find a way to get a pass rush. It’s almost nonexistent. That’s a problem. Our linebackers are about as good as any in the country and Bookie and Jett are playing great football so far but they need help. It’s a long season. Secondary can be helped out with a good pass rush.

I agree with Andrew on De Laura being reckless and one of the biggest reasons we survived and got out of there with a W. But, the defense still did enough to keep that game comfortable. It was the coaching and play calling on the offense that let it be as close as it was. I still believe that the defense will be what it needs to be for the team to have a successful year but the pass rush absolutely has to improve.

Mississippi State football concern: How much is Kevin Barbay’s play calling being influenced?

Justin Strawn: My biggest concern is Arnett is apparently giving Barbay instructions on how he wants the playcalling to go at certain points. We don’t need a micro manager of a coach. He hired Barbay because he isn’t an offensive guy, so let Barbay call the plays and Arnett needs to get out of the way.

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Trey Burke: I’m concerned about the play calling hierarchy. Arnett pushed Barbay to go for it on 4th and Goal from the 4, and then told Barbay to be conservative with good field position after a long drive by Arizona. We knew game management would be a subplot of this season, and unfortunately the best we can expect is growth. Personally, I’d like to see us simply the art of management to point maximization and hope the defense bails us out if the offense struggles.

Ethan Lee: Ryan has mentioned this elsewhere, but it’s a bit of an issue that Arnett is apparently influencing play calls there when Leach gave him a lot of autonomy to operate the defense the past few years.

Trey Burke: I’m open to getting schooled, but it’s the same and it’s different right? Offense is inherently proactive and defense is inherently reactive. Arnett wasn’t autonomously running a “bleed the clock defense” or a “three and out defense” depending on the game state. But I do think relying on that running game to bleed clock is a shaky proposition, and our clock control strategy should probably include more passing.

Ethan Lee: I mean, if I remember correctly, Leach hated time of possession and referred to it as a useless stat.

Just flat out trying to control the clock is an awful way to try and win a Mississippi State football game (yes, I get the rules changed this year, but still).

Trey Burke: There’s a difference between time of possession and “don’t leave any time on the clock.”

Ryan Strickland: My biggest takeaway is that Arnett seemingly took control of the offensive gameplan and I have a huge issue with that. A really huge issue. As I’ve said elsewhere, Arnett was given full autonomy on defense under Leach and has stated numerous times how much he appreciated that and how it helped him develop and be successful.

He is a defensive guy and not an offensive guy. He hired Barbay to run the offense and he needs to let Barbay run the offense his way unless it’s just completely derailing the team. Plain and simple. Now from comments he’s made since the game, it seems like he understands that was a problem and caused more harm than good so we will see if he backs off some and lets Barbay have it. We’ve got to throw the ball and utilize our very talented receiver group. Woody went out for a little while with an injury scare and it’s only been two games.

I don’t know if it was Barbay being influenced by Arnett or not trusting OL because of adjustments they made and getting some pressure or a mixture of both but scared money don’t make money. Both have said numerous times that they have to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers and they need to do a better job of that outside of Tulu. Doing a good job with Tulu. I just felt like they started coaching not to lose rather than win and that cannot continue as we get into SEC play.

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