Mississippi State wide receiver Makai Polk (10) receives a pass for a touchdown past Vanderbilt cornerback Allan George (28) during the second quarter at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021.

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Mississippi State WR Makai Polk declares for NFL draft

Mississippi State receiver Makai Polk announced Sunday that he is declaring for the NFL draft.

Polk established single-season records of 105 receptions and 1,046 receiving yards for the Bulldogs. He also caught nine touchdown passes.

The transfer from Cal thrived in the offense ran by coach Mike Leach and the tutelage of receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr.

“I am so thankful and appreciative for Coach Steve Spurrier and Coach Mike Leach for giving me the opportunity to play in the SEC with Mississippi State University,” Polk wrote in his announcement on Twitter. “Also a big shout out to my teammates as I have decided to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft and pursue my next goal and dream of playing at the professional level in the National Football League.”

Polk had just 36 catches for 478 yards and three scores in 12 games over two seasons at Cal.

–Field Level Media

Dec 28, 2021; Memphis, TN, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Donovan Smith (7) warms up prior to the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Liberty Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Tech runs past Mississippi State in Liberty Bowl

Donovan Smith ran for a touchdown, threw for another and directed an impressive performance for Texas Tech’s offense in a 34-7 rout of Mississippi State on Tuesday night at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn.

Smith completed 15 of 28 passes for 252 yards and Texas Tech (7-6) completed its first winning season since 2015 by totaling 512 yards of offense against former coach Mike Leach, who was 84-43 with the Red Raiders from 2000-09.

The Red Raiders racked up a season-high 260 rushing yards and scored three rushing TDs in their final game under interim coach Sonny Cumbie. The former Texas Tech quarterback, who led the team to an upset of Aaron Rodgers and California in the 2004 Holiday Bowl, is headed for the head-coaching job at Louisiana Tech.

Red Raiders running back Tahj Brooks gained 107 yards on 16 attempts, including a 19-yard TD run early in the first quarter. SaRodorick Thompson gained 80 yards on 14 carries and had a 1-yard TD run midway through the fourth.

J.J. Sparkman caught a 14-yard TD near the end of the third quarter and Jonathan Garibay booted field goals of 31 and 26 yards in the first half as the Red Raiders easily won the first meeting between the schools since 1970.

Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers was 32 of 53 for 290 yards. He was unable to throw for 300 yards for the 11th straight game and also faced constant pressure as the Bulldogs (7-6) turned in a disappointing showing after winning four of their final six regular-season games.

Lineman Tyree Wilson recorded two of Texas Tech’s four sacks and the Red Raiders also intercepted Rogers once and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter.

The Red Raiders needed just seven plays and 2:20 to take a 7-0 lead on Brooks’ TD and went up 10-0 lead on Garibay’s first field goal with 3:03 left in the opening period. Garibay kicked another field goal with 13 seconds left in the half to give the Red Raiders a 13-7 lead.

Smith’s TD run with 9:03 left in the third made it 20-7, and consecutive sacks by Wilson set up Sparkman’s leaping catch with two seconds remaining in the third for a 27-7 edge.

Thompson’s TD run early in the fourth made it 34-7 shortly after Rogers was intercepted in the red zone by defensive back Eric Monroe.

–Field Level Media

Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach said players who opt-out of bowl games to prepare for the NFL Draft are selfish.

Syndication The Montgomery Advertiser

Mississippi State’s Mike Leach seeks revenge vs. Texas Tech in Liberty Bowl

Mike Leach spent a decade patrolling the sideline at Texas Tech and overseeing a prolific offense in a tenure that ended controversially.

Leach, now in his second season guiding the Mississippi State program, will oppose his former team in the Liberty Bowl on Tuesday night at Memphis. It will be the first meeting between the schools since 1970.

Leach rose to prominence when he coached at Texas Tech from 2000-09, producing an 84-43 record. He led the Red Raiders to a bowl game in every season, including an upset of Aaron Rodgers and California in the 2004 Holiday Bowl when Sonny Cumbie — now Texas Tech’s interim head coach — was his quarterback.

After being fired from Texas Tech due to misconduct, Leach resurfaced at Washington State from 2012-19 before taking the job at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs finished 7-5 this season, winning four of their final six games after absorbing a 49-9 loss to Alabama on Oct. 16. They knocked off three ranked teams in 2021.

After Mississippi State went 4-7 last season, the Bulldogs improved this year with an offense that averaged 30.9 points per game. They are led by quarterback Will Rogers, who threw for a Southeastern Conference-leading 4,449 yards. Rogers also threw 35 touchdowns, second in the SEC to Heisman winner Bryce Young’s 43, and he never threw for fewer than 294 yards in a game this year.

“I’m the quarterback in this offense for Coach Leach,” Rogers said. “I think that my job is to win games. It’s cool to throw for 500 or 600 yards, but ultimately I get judged and this team gets judged on if we win a game or not.”

Texas Tech (6-6) is playing its final game under Cumbie, who took over for the fired Matt Wells on Oct. 25. Joey McGuire was hired last month to be the Red Raiders’ head coach in 2022, and Cumbie will depart for the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech.

The Red Raiders, who are in a bowl game for the first time since 2017, ended the regular season with four losses in five games.

“Our players, you can’t give them enough credit for everything they’ve gone through for the season,” Cumbie said. “All that is stuff you reflect on after (the Liberty Bowl), and hopefully when you reflect on it (postgame), you’re feeling good about how things went.”

Texas Tech averaged 30 points per game and saw three players split time at quarterback, including Donovan Smith. The freshman will make the start after completing 70 of 111 passes for 929 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions.

Smith will not be throwing to top target Erik Ezukanma, who declared for the NFL draft after totaling 48 receptions for 705 yards and four touchdowns. Ezukanma opted out of the bowl game.

–Field Level Media

Nov 25, 2021; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi Rebels running back Snoop Conner (24) dives into the endzone against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No. 9 Ole Miss gets to 10 wins with victory over rival Mississippi State

Snoop Conner rushed for two touchdowns as No. 9 Ole Miss set a school record for regular-season wins by topping host Mississippi State 31-21 Thursday in the Egg Bowl in Starkville, Miss.

On a rainswept night against its rival, the Rebels’ defense contained the Bulldogs’ Air Raid offense led by Will Rogers for the majority of the game and helped the visitors lock up second-place in the SEC West.

The victory resulted in the first 10-win regular season in school history.

Ole Miss (10-2, 6-2) owns seven 10-win seasons but all include bowl wins.

Junior Matt Corral was 25 of 33 for 229 yards with a TD and an interception. He rushed for 45 yards and a score.

Dontario Drummond grabbed a season-high 13 catches for 133 yards for the Rebels, who claimed their second straight series win and own a 64-46-6 advantage in the 120-year rivalry.

In his 10th consecutive 300-yard passing game, Rogers was 38-for-58 for 336 yards with a TD for the Bulldogs (7-5, 4-4).

Mississippi State stuffed Jerrion Ealy on a fourth-down run at the Ole Miss 33 on the game’s first series, and Bulldogs kicker Nolan McCord drilled a 34-yard field goal.

With Rebels standout kicker Caden Costa unavailable, walk-on Cale Nation connected from 25 yards on the next possession, but McCord answered from 29 yards for a 6-3 lead.

A troublesome area for the Bulldogs, the kicking game struggled later as McCord missed wide right from 40.

Capping a 16-play, 78-yard drive on the next series, Conner bulled in for a 10-6 lead with 2:21 left in the half.

The Bulldogs closed the half in disastrous fashion in the red zone with a holding penalty, three dropped passes — two that would have scored touchdowns — and McCord pushing a 33-yarder wide right again.

Ole Miss went up 17-6 early in the third when Corral’s 15-yard scramble set up Conner’s short TD.

Sam Williams’ second sack of Rogers — the defensive lineman’s school-record 12 1/2 this season — forced a turnover on downs at the Ole Miss 39 late in the third.

Corral spun into the end zone on a draw from four yards out at 11:17.

After Jett Johnson’s 48-yard interception return, Rogers hit Jaden Walley over the middle from 11 yards at 7:20 of the fourth for a score.

Jo’quavious Marks’ 11-yard scoring run and two-point conversion pass from Rogers to Makai Polk came three minutes after Ealy’s 15-yard pass reception over the left side for a touchdown.

–Field Level Media

Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach looks on during the final minute of the game as Auburn Tigers take on Mississippi State Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. Mississippi State Bulldogs defeated Auburn Tigers 43-34.

Will Rogers passes No. 25 Mississippi State past Tennessee State

Will Rogers passed for 391 yards and five touchdowns in a record-setting performance as No. 25 Mississippi State routed FCS member Tennessee State 55-10 on Saturday afternoon at Starkville, Miss.

Rogers, who threw a school-record six touchdown passes in a victory against Auburn a week earlier, threw three of his touchdowns to Austin Williams, who finished with 75 receiving yards. Makai Polk had nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Along the way, Rogers broke current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s school records for passing yards and touchdown passes in a season. Rogers now has 4,113 yards passing this season and 34 touchdowns in the air.

The Bulldogs (7-4) also clinched a winning season.

Chayil Garnett and Deveon Bryant filled in for injured quarterback Geremy Hickbottom (back) and combined to complete 19 of 27 passes for 170 yards for the Tigers (5-6), who lost their third consecutive game to complete head coach Eddie George’s first season.

Rogers threw his fifth touchdown pass when he connected with Polk for 50 yards to extend the lead to 42-0 with 9:10 remaining in the third quarter. Dillon Johnson’s 32-yard run made it 49-0 with 2:04 left in the third quarter.

Each team kicked a fourth-quarter field goal before Michael Mitchell ran 5 yards for TSU’s only touchdown with 3:03 to play and Nolan McCord added a 43-yard field goal in the final seconds for MSU.

The Bulldogs, who overcame a 20-point deficit to beat Louisiana Tech in its season opener, then overcame a 25-point deficit against Auburn, scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to take a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Rogers threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Williams, Jo’quavious Marks ran 7 yards for a touchdown and Rogers and Williams connected on a 5-yard touchdown pass.

MSU’s string of touchdown drives ended when it lost a fumble on its fourth possession before Rogers threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Malik Heath for a 28-0 lead 7:52 before halftime.

Rogers and Williams teamed on a 30-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to 35-0 just before the break.

–Field Level Media

Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers (2) passes against the Auburn Tigers during Saturday's game.

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No. 25 Mississippi State after more consistent highs vs. Tennessee State

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach says his team is “a group that kind of roller-coasters up and down.” That has been the pattern for the No. 25 Bulldogs (6-4) this season.

Leach hopes that pattern doesn’t continue when his team faces FCS member Tennessee State (5-5) in a nonconference battle on Saturday in Starkville, Miss., one week after the biggest comeback victory in school history.

The Bulldogs trailed then-No. 16 Auburn 28-3 in the second quarter before scoring 40 straight points on their way to a 43-34 victory.

Will Rogers passed for a school-record six touchdowns, one just before halftime to start the comeback and five in the second half to complete it.

“Utilizing the weapons around a quarterback is the single most important thing they do,” Leach said. “I think (Rogers) is (getting) better at doing that.”

Auburn scored touchdowns on its first four possessions but didn’t score again until a late touchdown after MSU had taken control.

It was the second historic comeback for the Bulldogs this season. The comeback against Auburn eclipsed the previous record-setting rally from a 20-point deficit that produced a 35-34 victory against Louisiana Tech.

MSU followed that game with a victory against a ranked N.C. State team, but then lost to Memphis and LSU.

The Bulldogs beat another ranked team when they knocked off Texas A&M on the road before getting routed by Alabama at home.

They beat Vanderbilt and Kentucky and popped up at No. 17 in the first CFP rankings but immediately fell out after a loss to Arkansas.

Now they’re in the rankings again going into this game just five days before the Egg Bowl game against rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night.

MSU isn’t the team in Saturday’s matchup that could be distracted.

TSU coach Eddie George’s name surfaced in a report about candidates to fill the vacant head coaching position at Akron.

“This is the first I am hearing about it,” George told the Tennessean. “I’m just focused on finishing the season strong at Tennessee State.”

George’s first season with the Tigers started strong but has slipped the past two weeks.

TSU also went 2-5 last spring when the Ohio Valley Conference postponed its 2020 season from the fall because of COVID.

But under George, the former star running back for Ohio State and the Tennessee Titans, the Tigers were 5-3 overall and sitting in second place before losing at UT Martin 41-20 two weeks ago and to Austin Peay 36-7 in the home finale last Saturday to fall into third place.

“My commitment is to Tennessee State, and I don’t want to send any mixed messages,” George said. “I am just enjoying my boys, trying to build this program in the right way. I’m just focused on getting my offense back up and ready for the game this week.”

The offense lost quarterback Geremy Hickbottom and running back Devon Starling to injuries during the loss to Austin Peay and finished with just 194 total yards.

“I think everybody has followed his career, especially on the field,” Leach said of George. “It looks like he is definitely doing some good things with some good schemes — kind of aggressive. I’m excited that he chose to coach.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; College Station, Texas, USA;  Auburn Tigers quarterback Bo Nix (10) warms up before playing against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

No. 17 Auburn wants more from Bo Nix vs. Mississippi State

For the second time in three weeks, Auburn tries to get back into the win column when it welcomes a Mississippi team into venerable Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Coming off a loss at No. 11 Texas A&M last week, No. 17 Auburn will host Mississippi State in the 95th meeting between the Southeastern Conference opponents.

Two weeks ago, the Tigers (6-3, 3-2) throttled Ole Miss at home, putting themselves in good position in the West Division with a 31-20 victory behind the fleet feet and right arm of quarterback Bo Nix.

As the team traveled to College Station, Texas, for its game with the Aggies, Auburn possessed a luxury that is not often bestowed upon a football team in November: They controlled their own destiny if they won out.

The Aggies put an end to that talk in a 20-3 drubbing of the Tigers, holding Auburn to season lows in points (three) and total yards (226).

The elusive but streaky Nix was 20-of-41 for just 153 yards with an interception, and the running game stumbled with 73 yards on 29 carries (2.5 per rush).

First-year head coach Bryan Harsin said his offense needs to step up its game.

“Offensively, we were just poor,” said Harsin, whose offense has not reached the end zone in the last six quarters. “We went back and looked at it on Sunday and made the corrections. Went out there and hit a few things we had to do physically on the field and moved on to Mississippi State.”

Auburn has claimed eight of the past 12 games in the series, including last season’s 24-10 road win, and is 65-27-2 overall.

The Bulldogs (5-4, 3-3) would just as soon move on from last week’s final minute against Arkansas.

In Fayetteville against the Razorbacks, Mississippi State’s bid to force overtime after Arkansas scored a TD with 21 seconds left ended with kicker Nolan McCord missing a game-tying field with two seconds left.

McCord, who replaced Brandon Ruiz after the latter missed two field goals earlier (including a 23-yarder), hooked his 40-yard attempt badly to the left and prevented overtime.

Bulldogs coach Mike Leach vented about his kicking situation after the 31-28 loss.

“There’s an open tryout on our campus for kickers,” Leach said. “Anybody that wants to walk on and kick at Mississippi State, we’ll hold a tryout anytime you can get over to our building.”

The defeat snapped the Bulldogs’ two-game winning streak and made Arkansas bowl-eligible for the first time in non-COVID conditions since 2016.

Three of Mississippi State’s four losses are by three points or fewer — to Memphis, LSU and Arkansas — and the second-year coach said making a play or two would have been the difference in those games.

“I think we’re improving,” Leach said. “We’ve already beaten several teams nobody thought we were going to beat. The worst part is there were several within our grasp — one play away and we win the game. We can’t lose sight of that.”

Quarterback Will Rogers has soared in Leach’s “Air Raid” offense, throwing for 3,307 yards and 23 TDs with eight interceptions, while completing 75.2 percent of his tosses.

Leading receiver Makai Polk has 71 catches for 720 yards and a team-leading six scores.

–Field Level Media

Mississippi State wide receiver Lideatrick Griffin (5) is brought down by Vanderbilt defenders during the first quarter at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021.

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Miss. St. gains 524 yards in rout of Vandy

Will Rogers threw a career-high four touchdown passes as visiting Mississippi State routed Vanderbilt 45-6 in an SEC game Saturday.

Rogers completed 42 of 58 passes for 386 yards for the Bulldogs (4-3, 2-2 SEC), who bounced back from a blowout loss to Alabama last week. Rogers connected with a season-best 13 receivers and easily overcame two interceptions.

MSU has won the last five meetings with the Commodores by a combined score of 152-40.

Mike Wright, making his second consecutive start at quarterback in place of injured Ken Seals, completed 12 of 17 for 122 yards with an interception for Vanderbilt (2-6, 0-4) lost its 17th consecutive SEC game.

MSU outgained the Commodores 524-155 and had 29 first downs to just five for Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs possessed the ball for 39 minutes.

One of Rogers’ few mistakes came when he threw an interception on the Bulldogs’ first possession of the third quarter. That led to Joseph Bulovas’ 41-yard field goal that trimmed MSU’s lead to 24-6.

Rogers rebounded with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Malik Heath that gave the Bulldogs a 31-6 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Jo’quavious Marks’ 5-yard run produced MSU’s only touchdown that didn’t come on a pass, pushing the lead to 38-6 early in the fourth quarter.

Chance Lovertich replaced Rogers late in the fourth quarter and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Rara Thomas with 51 seconds left.

MSU drove to a 9-yard touchdown pass from Rogers to Makai Polk on the first possession of the game.

Brandon Ruiz added a 36-yard field goal that increased the lead to 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Bulovas kicked a 27-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter to pull Vanderbilt within 10-3.

Rogers and Polk combined on a 31-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bulldogs a 17-3 lead.

On third-and-goal, Rogers threw a six-yard touchdown to Rufus Harvey for a 24-3 halftime lead.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Mike Wright (5) attempts a pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt, Mississippi State meet in clash of improving teams

Coaches of Mississippi State and Vanderbilt said they believe the play of their teams is improving. And both teams hope to take another step in the process when they meet Saturday in a Southeastern Conference game in Nashville, Tenn.

Proof of improvements for Mississippi State: The Bulldogs (3-3, 1-2 SEC) are the only team other than No. 1 Georgia to have multiple wins against teams in the current AP Top 25. They have defeated No. 18 North Carolina State and No. 17 Texas A&M.

“I’m pleased we have improved at times,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said, “but we have to accelerate that process and do it more.”

The Bulldogs were reminded of how much growth remains for them to become an SEC contender when they were routed by then-No. 5 Alabama 49-9 at home last week.

“It’s easy to say that Alabama is really good, and that is true,” Leach said. “But my problem is we didn’t play as well as we can and that has to be solved.”

Mississippi State is a good measuring stick for the Commodores in coach Clark Lea’s first season. Vanderbilt has lost the past four meetings with the Bulldogs by a combined score of 107-34.

The Commodores (2-5, 0-3) were on the verge of ending a 15-game SEC losing streak last Saturday. Joseph Bulovas kicked a 28-yard field goal to extend their lead over host South Carolina to 20-14 with 1:36 left.

But quarterback Zeb Noland came off the Gamecocks bench to direct a 75-yard drive, throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Legette with 37 seconds remaining to give South Carolina a 21-20 victory.

“We certainly aren’t looking at this in terms of the accumulation of previous years’ games,” Lea said. “This is about Team 1. This is about what we’re doing this season.”

Quarterback Mike Wright made his first start for Vanderbilt in place of injured Ken Seals, whom Lea said is week-to-week with a finger injury. Wright will start again Saturday.

“I thought we were more explosive, which is something that had kind of held us back in the past,” Lea said.

Vanderbilt had a fourth-down stop in the red zone and made two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

“Our issue is stringing together a consistent performance,” Lea said. “We’re a program that feeds off competition and that wants to win. We are a work in progress and we are becoming the program we know we can become.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Jordan Battle (9) and defensive back Kool-Aid McKinstry (1) react after defeating the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Alabama bounces back from loss, punishes Mississippi State

Bryce Young threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night as No. 5 Alabama authored a predictable rebound from last week’s upset loss at Texas A&M, walloping Mississippi State 49-9 in Starkville, Miss.

Young completed 20 of 28 passes, connecting on scoring strikes of 46, 75, 51 and 29 yards to John Metchie, Jameson Williams, Brian Robinson Jr. and Traseshon Holden. The Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) rolled up 543 yards and made 12 of 16 third-down conversions.

Alabama’s defense, which was riddled by Texas A&M sophomore Zach Calzada last week, exacted a pound of flesh out of Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers.

Rogers hit 35 of 55 passes for 300 yards, but he was intercepted three times and was under constant pressure most of the game. He absorbed seven sacks and played through a right shoulder injury for most of the last three quarters after taking a hard hit.

Mississippi State (3-3, 1-2) rushed for minus 1 yard on 19 attempts.

The Tide needed just 4:26 to take the lead for good. Young hit Metchie with a short pass over the middle, and the wide receiver ran through an arm-tackle on his way to six points.

Brandon Ruiz drilled a 44-yard field goal with 6:52 left in the first quarter to get the Bulldogs on the board, but Jordan Battle made it 14-3 when he picked off Rogers and rumbled 40 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown.

Robinson bulled in from the 1 with 3:15 left in the second quarter for a 21-3 advantage, and Ruiz hit from 37 yards with 59 seconds remaining to make it 21-6 Alabama at halftime.

Any chance Mississippi State had to make a game of it disappeared almost immediately in the third quarter. Richardson took a short pass and zipped down the left sideline, getting a key block late for a touchdown just 14 seconds into the period.

After Ruiz connected on another 37-yarder for the Bulldogs, Robinson turned the game into a laugher with his touchdown reception and then a 3-yard scoring run.

–Field Level Media