What I liked — and didn't like — from Mississippi State football in spring game | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

Mississippi State is gaining publicity for getting ranked No. 8 nationally in ESPN's preseason Football Power Index

The Bulldogs, not surprisingly, didn't live up to that ranking in Saturday's spring game, but there were some things to like, especially on defense.

Here's my final assessment:

What I liked: If Saturday served as any indication, Zach Arnett is going to continue having a positive effect as Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator. His 3-3-5 defense caused headaches for first-string quarterback Will Rogers, particularly in the first half. That defense generated one score on a fumble recovery and set up another on an interception.

Emmanuel Forbes, a Freshman All-American in 2020, was a menace in coverage and intercepted a Rogers pass. Texas transfer Jalen Green had an active day at safety and scored on a fumble recovery. Linebacker Aaron Brule starred.

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The quarterback competition should continue into August after backup Jack Abraham had a better showing than Rogers. Abraham threw two nice touchdown passes on fade patterns in the red zone. The Southern Miss transfer showed a good feel for the offense, got the ball out quickly and read the field well. He made smart decisions, and his offense had no turnovers.

Geor'quarius Spivey excelled. The 6-foot-5 wide receiver hauled in what should have been a touchdown by elevating for a grab in double coverage, but officials ruled Spivey didn’t control the catch. So, a few plays later, Spivey caught a touchdown in 1-on-1 coverage that the officials didn’t refute.

Dillon Johnson ran hard and reiterated his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, an essential quality to be the top running back in Mike Leach’s offense.

What I didn’t like: Rogers got better as the game progressed, but he didn’t have the type of performance that made you think Leach has found his starting quarterback. The early struggles weren’t all on Rogers’ shoulders – his pass protection was spotty, at best – but he also made some poor choices, like the pass he forced into traffic over the middle that Forbes intercepted.

Outside of Johnson’s 49 yards rushing, it was a quiet day on the ground, leaving questions about whether MSU can run the ball well enough to keep defenses honest.

Most concerning was the right leg injury to top receiver Jaden Walley. Leach wouldn’t update Walley’s status after the game.

Quotable: “I didn’t think we had particularly good energy. I thought that we didn’t execute enough on the offense, so the defense wasn’t challenged much.” – Mike Leach

Game ball: Aaron Brule. The linebacker had 11 tackles, a pass breakup and a quarterback pressure to lead the defense for the winning side.

Lingering question: Who’s Mississippi State’s starting quarterback? Abraham played well enough Saturday to prolong a competition that will gain intrigue after four-star signee Sawyer Robertson enrolls this summer. If Rogers is the guy, he must play more consistently than he did Saturday.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.