How a 'buddy-buddy' relationship led Mississippi State football to biggest play at Arizona

Stefan Krajisnik
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

TUCSON, Ariz. — Will Rogers had to take a jab at Austin Williams.

The roommates, better known for being a quarterback and wide receiver duo, were hanging out in their kitchen this week when Rogers finally addressed the elephant in the room.

Williams had one catch for one yard in Mississippi State football’s (2-0) season-opening win against Memphis.

“That’s a pretty bad stat line,” Rogers laughed.

He’s right, but when he finished laughing, he added context and reassurance.

“In our offense, we had five different guys catch five touchdowns last week,” Rogers said. “It’s going to be somebody’s night. You never know who it’s going to be.”

Saturday, a week after the underwhelming showing, it was Williams’ night — catching five passes for 31 yards and two touchdowns in Mississippi State’s 39-17 win at Arizona.

Far from their unity in the desert, Rogers and Williams are often competing in their Starkville apartment. Their ping pong competitions are discussed in press conferences nearly as much as their completions and touchdowns.

“They're all buddy-buddy," MSU coach Mike Leach says. "... Who knows who wins, because I’m sure they both lie about the results or embellish them at the minimum."

The extensive time spent together, regardless of the setting, has proven crucial for Leach as he begins Year 3 in Starkville.

“They are very much on the same page mentally,” Leach added. “A lot of it has to do with Austin always wants as many reps as he can possibly have and so does Will. Sometimes they’re like the last guys standing out there.”

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Williams has become Rogers’ favorite goal-line target. The one catch for one yard is ugly on the box score, but it makes sense considering MSU was looking to punch the ball in from the 2-yard line. Williams just cut the route short.

His first touchdown against the Wildcats (1-1) came against one-on-one coverage in which Williams ran a slant from the slot and caught an easy score to put MSU up 15 in the third quarter.

His second was where their time together proved worthy.

It was originally another third-quarter touchdown in which Williams ran a similar route. That was called back for offensive pass interference.

"Pick play," Rogers said in air quotes. "Psh."

“I certainly have no comment on that,” Leach added. “Nor would I ever comment on the source of that problem.”

Sep 10, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) drops back to pass during the first half against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

MSU felt so strongly the play should’ve been allowed it ran it again. This time it was on the other end of the field as the fourth quarter began.

With the lead down to eight, Leach liked what Arizona was showing. So he called for the play on fourth-and-4.

It resulted in a touchdown — a dart from Rogers between two defenders to his roommate. It’s a play Rogers remembers executing in the 2020 Egg Bowl.

“We’ve done it a lot of times together,” Rogers said. “We know where it’s going to hit. It was one of those where I just threw it and hoped he was there.”

Even having run it before, it's a pass Rogers admits he doesn’t make as a freshman.

It’s a pass he’s making now, and it’s one he’ll need to make when Mississippi State enters Death Valley looking for another Saturday night (5 p.m., ESPN) win at LSU. Williams has played and won in that stadium. Rogers has not.

Perhaps the wide receiver can offer some tips the next time he asks his quarterback to pass the salt.

Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at skrajisnik@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @skrajisnik3