Mississippi State football cruises by FCS foe East Tennessee State in Egg Bowl tune-up

Stefan Krajisnik
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE — East Tennessee State beat Vanderbilt last season, but that matchup 441 days ago was no reflection of the SEC treatment handed to the Buccaneers by Mississippi State football on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium.

MSU (7-4, 3-4 SEC) stomped its FCS opponent, securing a 56-7 win ahead of Thursday's Egg Bowl against Ole Miss.

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The Bulldogs unleashed early, jumping out to a 35-0 lead in the first half behind explosive plays on offense and defense against ETSU (3-8). With a short week ahead, coach Mike Leach had the chance to rest his starters for most of the second half.

MSU has won seven games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2017-2018.

From the opening kickoff

MSU kick returner Lideatrick Griffin took the opening kickoff 52 yards to set the first possession up in ETSU territory. It took an offsides penalty and three passes from Will Rogers to get the Bulldogs into the end zone.

The final pass, fittingly, went to Griffin for a 12-yard score.

A touchdown pass to Rara Thomas later in the first quarter before another touchdown pass on a jet sweep to Griffin early in the second quarter gave MSU a 21-0 lead with 12:51 left in the first half.

Griffin, who entered the game with two career touchdown catches, doubled his total in one half against ETSU.  

Thomas, who emerged as a true freshman last season, now has 11 career touchdowns.

Will Rogers keeps moving up

When he wasn’t delivering blocks for running back Jo’quavious Marks, Rogers (30-for-37, 301 yards, 5 TDs) was continuing to move up the record books with his arm.

Rogers surpassed 10,000 career passing yards in the first half, becoming the 10th player to do so in SEC history. He also passed Eli Manning’s mark of 10,119 yards to enter the top nine in all-time SEC passing yardage.

With his touchdown pass to Justin Robinson in the third quarter, Rogers recorded his 79th career touchdown pass – tying him for ninth in SEC history.

Earlier this season, Rogers broke the SEC record for completions.

Nov 19, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Rara Thomas (0) scores a touchdown while defended by East Tennessee State Buccaneers defensive back Quinn Smith (7) during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Emmanuel Forbes sits alone

Record-breaking performances weren’t reserved for Rogers. MSU defensive back Emmanuel Forbes returned an interception for a 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

That marked his sixth career interception returned for a touchdown, breaking the FBS record.

Forbes has three interceptions returned for touchdowns this season, including one at Kentucky and one against Texas A&M. Forbes, a junior, is eligible to declare for the NFL Draft.

Mississippi State honors seniors

The Bulldogs celebrated senior day with 22 players recognized prior to the game.

Notable players included wide receivers Caleb Ducking and Austin Williams, defensive linemen Jordan Davis, Randy Charlton, Jaden Crumedy and Cameron Young, linebackers Tyrus Wheat and Nathaniel Watson and safety Collin Duncan.

Among notables not honored was graduate linebacker Jett Johnson.

Johnson, a Tupelo native, has an extra season of eligibility remaining due to the COVID-19 season. He led MSU in tackles last season and is second behind Watson this year.

Headed to Oxford

Mississippi State has scheduled its FCS game ahead of the Egg Bowl in two straight seasons. In some way, Saturday served as a live practice for the Bulldogs with the short week looming while Ole Miss takes on Arkansas.

Leach carries pressure into Oxford with no wins against the Rebels since he was hired by MSU in 2020. Prior to coming to Starkville, Leach went 1-7 in the Apple Cup as Washington State’s coach.

The Egg Bowl kicks off at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. The game will be aired on ESPN.

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