Mississippi State football would have had straight A's but special teams docked to D

Stefan Krajisnik
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE — This was the game nobody had circled on its calendar.

It was a cold morning. It was an early kickoff. The opponent was an FCS program.

Saturday’s meeting between Mississippi State football and East Tennessee State — resulting in a 56-7 win for MSU — was never about the game.

It was a chance for Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4 SEC) to work out its struggles ahead of Thursday’s Egg Bowl against Ole Miss. The Bulldogs did so with ease.

Here’s how we graded Mississippi State’s win.

EMMANUEL FORBES:Mississippi State football defensive back Emmanuel Forbes breaks FBS record vs. ETSU

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Offense: A+

MSU’s Air Raid offense was once a well-oiled machine. The Bulldogs started the season 5-1 while averaging 38.5 points per contest.

They averaged 20.3 points in the four games that followed.

ETSU (3-8) wasn’t a formidable opponent, but it provided MSU a chance to regain confidence and momentum offensively headed into its biggest game.

Saturday also gave graduate student Chance Lovertich a shot to enter the game on senior day.

Ole Miss’ defense is significantly better than ETSU’s. However, anything near this performance should give coach Mike Leach and quarterback Will Rogers their first Egg Bowl win.

Defense: A+

The seven points aren’t a reflection of the defense. Those fall under the special teams section.

If it were up to the defense, MSU would’ve had its first shutout since a 49-0 win against Charleston Southern on Sept. 2, 2017.

The Buccaneers recorded just 43 passing yards and 154 total yards.

Zach Arnett’s unit also collected three interceptions, including a record-breaking one returned for a touchdown by Emmanuel Forbes.

Nov 19, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA;East Tennessee State Buccaneers wide receiver Cameron Lewis (80) makes a reception while defended by Mississippi State Bulldogs safety Collin Duncan (19) and cornerback Emmanuel Forbes (13) during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams: D

Lideatrick Griffin set the tone early with a 52-yard return on the opening kickoff to set MSU up in ETSU territory. That was the lone bright spot.

Massimo Biscardi missed a 49-yard field goal late in the second quarter. That was the only blemish in the game for MSU until the fourth quarter.

That’s when George Georgopoulos had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown.

Coaching: A+

Leach approached this game perfectly. He didn’t open up the full playbook, but he did experiment with new wrinkles such as a jet sweep throw to Griffin.

He allowed seniors further down the depth chart to get some reps as well, capped by Lovertich taking over for Rogers in the fourth quarter.

MSU didn’t let up even when the reserves entered the game, which reflects upon Leach and Arnett.

Overall: A+

For the most part, Saturday provided everything MSU needed. The Bulldogs cruised and had the opportunity to rest key players.

The real test now awaits.

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