Mississippi State football film study: Why did Bulldogs offense fail vs. LSU?

STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI - SEPTEMBER 16: Will Rogers #2 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs warms up before the game against the LSU Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium on September 16, 2023 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI - SEPTEMBER 16: Will Rogers #2 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs warms up before the game against the LSU Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium on September 16, 2023 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

Mississippi State football had a disastrous outing against LSU. The offensive performance was as bad as we’ve seen in a while. What went wrong for the Bulldogs?

Things went about as poorly as they could’ve on Saturday for Mississippi State football. LSU destroyed the Bulldogs 41-14, and it easily could’ve been worse. It was 24-0 before State finally got a touchdown with about a minute left in the first half. They wouldn’t score again until late in the forth quarter.

Offensively, it was abysmal.

MSU finished with just 201 yards of offense, averaging 4.02 yards per play. They were 3/13 on third downs. State had an offensive success rate of just 26%. As Josh Pate of 247 Sports pointed out, the Bulldogs had one stretch of plays that literally could not have gone worse.

QB Will Rogers had the worst game of his career. He went 11/28 for 103 yards and no touchdowns. He was inaccurate on many of his throws and on a few occasions clearly wasn’t on the same page with his receivers.

It didn’t help that he was constantly under pressure.

The Tiger defense sacked Rogers four times and had four more QB hurries. MSU’s offensive line was terrible in pass protection. State tried to play a more “Air Raid” style of offense to take advantage of a struggling LSU secondary, but with Rogers’ ineffectiveness and the OL constantly allowing pressure, it didn’t matter.

State didn’t do much to try and attack LSU on the ground, but they weren’t overly effective in the run game either. Woody Marks broke off a long run to open up State’s lone first half scoring drive, and Tulu Griffin took a jet sweep for a TD to cap off that drive a few plays later. But outside of their final drive of the game when LSU’s defense was clearly coasting, State didn’t get much push up front.

This was simply a bad game all around.

What went wrong for Mississippi State football’s offense?

Usually, I like to highlight “the good” of what State did on each side of the ball in these film studies. And technically speaking, there were a few (heavy emphasis on “few”) good plays from the Bulldog offense. But considering they didn’t manage a scoring drive until they were already down 24-0 and then did nothing to make the game halfway competitive after that, I’m not going to waste time trying to find positives.

State started the game with one of those few positives, and Will Rogers hit Justin Robinson on a stick route for a first down. But on just the second play of the game, we saw this disfunction plaguing this offense right now. State calls GT Counter to the left, meaning your RG and RT will act as the pullers, which is what happens.

Unfortunately, LT Kwatravious Johnson doesn’t get the memo.

He clearly thinks the call was for a counter to the right, so he pulls to the right. Johnson’s actual assignment is to execute a down-block to open up space on the left side and then potentially climb to the second level to get a block on a linebacker.

Obviously, that’s not what happens.

Because Johnson pulls, he gets in the way of RT Kam Jones, who is supposed to be Woody Marks’ lead blocker through the hole. This forces the run to bounce to the outside where second level defenders swarm to the make the tackle.

It also allows the LBs to go unblocked.

If Johnson just executes the called run, this likely could’ve been a solid gain. But instead, Marks has to fight to even get back to the line of scrimmage. State gets behind the chains, the next two plays go equally poorly, and they punt.

They gave themselves no chance.

Sticking with issues along the offensive line, pass protection was a major issue throughout the game. It felt like every time Will Rogers dropped back to pass, he was under duress from the LSU defensive front.  State missed an opportunity for a big play to Zavion Thomas on the opening drive because of how quickly pressure got to Rogers.

Pass rush killed State’s second drive as well. After a Tulu Griffin kickoff return set the Bulldogs up at the 41-yard line, they immediately put themselves right back in terrible position. Kevin Barbay calls for a rollout to the left for Rogers. The offensive line is slide protecting to their right, leaving TE Malik Ellis responsible for blocking LSU DE Sai’vion Jones.

Ellis barely gets his hands on Jones, who easily gets around him to the edge and quickly runs down Rogers. Creed Whittemore breaks open on an out route near the sticks but not until Jones gets to Rogers. What could’ve been a positive gain to start the drive instead goes for a seven-yard loss. Rogers is off-target on his second and third down attempts (though the latter wouldn’t have gone for more than a few yards anyways), and State squanders great field position.

Speaking of inaccuracies from Will Rogers, he, simply put, had an awful game. Sometimes the stat line doesn’t tell the whole story, but in this case, it mostly does. Like we just discussed his OL did him absolutely no favors, and some of the off-target throws go back to being under pressure.

But there were multiple routine throws he just missed on. There were a few occasions where it looked like he wasn’t on the same page with his receivers. But in many cases he didn’t even give his receiver a chance.

Take this simple screen pass to Woody Marks. This is MSU’s third drive of the game on 3rd & 10. It’s obviously not an ideal spot to be in having to try and convert a third and long, but Barbay makes a sensible call with the screen to the field away from the strength of the formation.

With three receivers into the boundary, LSU aligns most of their defenders to that side, meaning State has both more space and a numbers advantage for the screen. As you watch this play develop, you can see that Marks has blockers out in front with plenty of room to operate.

If Rogers executes a simple dump-off to Marks, there’s a great chance for this play to result in a first down. But instead he air-mails the throw out of Marks’ reach, and it’s yet another punt for State. Rogers is under pressure and throwing off his back foot, but that’s standard on a slip screen to the RB. You want the defense to come flying up at you and except to not be setting your feet to throw.

It’s an easy throw he has to make.


This was just an all-around bad performance for Mississippi State’s offense. You can occasionally overcome bad offensive line play. You can occasionally overcome bad quarterback play. You aren’t overcoming both.

State is stuck in a spot right now where they have no set offensive philosophy. They’re trying to blend the wide zone and play-action game with some of the Air Raid approach, and it’s not going well.

The OL has done a decent job of adjusting to the new run schemes (though there are clearly some growing pains taking place), and it’s given Woody Marks a chance to shine. But the play-action game off of that has been anything but solid. Will Rogers hasn’t looked comfortable handling those concepts, and the OL has been bad in pass protection. Those shot plays that are supposed to be promised with a strong run game haven’t been there because Will has no time in the pocket when they’re called.

The Air Raid-esque approach puts Rogers in more of his comfort zone while highlighting more opportunities for easy completions to State’s talented group of WRs. But, you can see the learning curve in that area too where Will still is adjusting to new concepts, even if it’s a similar approach to what he’s used to.

But the main problem with this approach goes back to the issues with the play-action shots: pass protection. Outside of quick game concepts where the ball comes out quickly, the drop-back passing game hasn’t materialized because opposing defensive fronts are terrorizing MSU’s OL. They’ve rarely had time for passes beyond the short part of the field. And when Rogers starts getting under pressure frequently, he becomes more and more antsy in the pocket, even on occasions where he’s got time.

The inability to commit to any one style has caused a very disjointed offense that can’t get into any kind of rhythm. Obviously Zach Arnett wanted to transition away from the Air Raid, which is why he hired Kevin Barbay. He wanted to be more multiple as an offense and, I believe, eventually get this team back to playing power football.

But now you have a team without an offensive identity to build around, and it’s hard to argue that anyone on the offense is being put in the best position to succeed. The talking point all offseason was that they’d identify the best 11 players and run what best suits that group. It’s clear they still don’t know what works best for those 11.

They need to figure that out quickly, or this will be a long season.

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