STARKVILLE, Miss. -- An electric atmosphere and hyped-up Mississippi State team was diminished a bit in game one of the 2022 season — to no fault of the Bulldogs.
After lightning struck offensively and defensively from MSU’s units in the first few minutes of the game, literal lightning would halt play for nearly three hours. The Bulldogs regrouped and made a late night memorable in a 49-23 victory over the Tigers.
“I was kind of impressed with the way we played for an opener. The biggest thing is we have to play a complete game. I was proud of the way that we came out and played after the delay,” Mike Leach said. “I thought we handled (the lightning delay) better than expected.”
Led by Bulldog quarterback Will Rogers, MSU outgained the Tigers 542-294 with the bulk of the Tigers’ yards coming in the second half. Rogers was 38-of-49 in the game for 450 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. It was the 14th time in his three-year career that he’s notched over 300 yards and his sixth 400-yard game.
The 450 yards was Rogers’ most as a Bulldog and Leach was impressed with the composure that he had in the pocket.
“I thought (Rogers) played really well,” Leach said. “I thought he really did a good job holding things together and seeing the field. Probably one of the best performances he’s had as far as seeing the field.”
MSU’s defense dominated for two and a half quarters. MSU gave up two first downs in the first seven possessions and had allowed just 40 yards midway through the third quarter. It wasn’t until running back Jevyon Ducker broke off a 50-yard run later in the third quarter that the Tigers broke 100 yards of total offense.
Memphis scored on each of its final three drives to cut into Mississippi State's 35-3 lead and cut it to 19. Sophomore quarterback Seth Henigan threw for 165 yards on 19-of-30 with a touchdown pass.
Rogers completed passes to 12 receivers and four receivers caught five or more passes each. His five TD passes all went to different receivers.
Rara Thomas was one of those who got a chance to show what he could do at receiver. The sophomore had five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, including a touchdown on the first drive.k He had three catches in the series and MSU took a 7-0 lead.
Midway through the first quarter, lightning struck about eight miles from the stadium and sent the two teams into the locker rooms. The Bulldogs came out and would lead 28-3 in the first half and extended it to 35-3 before the Tigers were able to close the gap a bit.
What might have been one of the bigger surprises in the game was the Bulldogs’ willingness to run the football. MSU threw for 450 yards on those 49 attempts but also ran it 34 times for 97 yards. The two starting backs, Jo’Quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson, ran 28 times for 103 yards with Marks running in two touchdowns.
Memphis gave up 32 first downs to the Bulldogs and had just 13 of its own. The Tigers were also 3-of-12 on 3rd downs while MSU went 11-of-13.
Things got sloppy down the stretch for Mississippi State but the Bulldogs were impressive in the first three quarters. It was a chance for MSU to get a measure of revenge after dropping a game in Memphis a season ago, but it wasn’t a full four quarters for the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State travels to Arizona for a matchup with the Wildcats next Saturday
Memphis has an AAC game at Navy next Saturday