The Mississippi State Bulldogs are moving in the right direction in seemingly every aspect, but that’s particularly true with their offense. Mike Leach’s schemes should get plenty of credit, along with everyone putting in the effort to help this team improve in a significant manner, but one name should get more recognition than it’s received for much of the season: Will Rogers.
Rogers was thrust into a position where he had to take over Mississippi State’s offense long before than he ever should have. But those early speedbumps helped get him some more reps. And now, in his sophomore season (which is his first full year as a starter), Rogers is tearing SEC defenses apart.
It’s remarkable how well he’s playing.
He’s now leading the Southeastern Conference in several categories and that’s apparently ruffled a few feathers from folks who like teams in Oxford and Tuscaloosa.
Just look at those stats and objectively tell me they’re not impressive. Nobody can seriously make an argument that the fact that a sophomore leading the SEC like that isn’t impressive.
But apparently the fact that Rogers is succeeding has apparently made a few Ole Miss and Alabama fans feel things.
It is fascinating to watch Ole Miss fans and Alabama fans complain about the way Rogers is succeeding while both the Rebels and the Crimson Tide also operate offenses that are designed to be friendly to their quarterbacks and also help them gain an abundance of yards and touchdowns.
That is not to take away from what Matt Corral and Bryce Young have accomplished, but, just like Rogers and Mississippi State, they are leading teams that spread their opponents out and take advantage of matchups.
The current Ole Miss offense is largely inspired by what Art Briles brought to the Baylor Bears as offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby worked under Briles in Waco. There’s a lot of tempo and running and throwing it deep there in Oxford. In Tuscaloosa, dating back to Lane Kiffin’s time with the Crimson Tide, Nick Saban’s teams have been using a wide variety of spread offense schemes that are all designed to help their quarterbacks produce at a high level.
So, why is it when Young or Corral rack up yards and touchdowns to lead their team, they’re elevating the way their respective offenses operate and what they can accomplish, but when Rogers does it, he’s a product of a gimmick offense? It really wasn’t that long ago that the spread offenses the Rebels and Crimson Tide are utilizing were deemed to be gimmicks as well. Why is it the Air Raid still carries that stigma?
Rogers is doing this as opposing defenses are expecting him to throw the ball essentially on every single down. He’s not making errors. He’s efficient. He’s steadily improving as the season has worn on.
No, Will Rogers doesn’t run the ball. That’s fine.
I never thought I’d live to see a day when Ole Miss and Alabama fans attempted to belittle a Mississippi State quarterback’s accomplishments because he wasn’t running enough. At one point, it seemed as if these fanbases would never stop bashing State quarterbacks because of their ability to run the ball.
During Dak Prescott’s time at Mississippi State, many took the chance to try and diminish what he brought to the table because of how often he ran the ball. Nick Fitzgerald’s accomplishments were always looked down upon because of his tendency to run and relative struggles to throw the ball.
But now, when a State quarterback throws the ball often and doesn’t take off to run, it’s considered a bad thing?
And Rogers being a “one-dimensional” quarterback is fine.
It’s honestly fine. The way he’s producing while simply just passing the ball is still just as good as, if not better than, what Young and Corral are doing while running and passing the ball.
This season, Corral has a 66.6% completion percentage for 2,773 passing yards and 17 touchdown passes against two interceptions. On the ground, Corral has run for 523 yards and 10 more touchdowns. Combine all of that and you’ve got a quarterback who brings a total of 3,296 yards and 27 touchdowns to the table.
On the year, Bryce Young has completed 71% of his passes for 3,025 yards and 33 touchdowns against three picks. Young, who does not take off and run all that often, adds 25 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground, elevating his totals up to 3,050 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Will Rogers, meanwhile, has thrown for 3,722 yards while tossing 29 touchdown passes and eight interceptions off of a 75.7% completion percentage. Rogers doesn’t run the ball, so he brings -74 rushing yards to the table, bringing his total to 3,648 yards and 29 touchdowns.
No, not just anyone can operate the Air Raid the way Will Rogers is.
The criticism that is often levied against successful Air Raid quarterbacks is that anyone could complete a high percentage of passes for an absurd amount of touchdowns in this offense. But Mississippi State fans have plenty of evidence that this simply isn’t true.
While KJ Costello had a historic game against the defending national champions as he torched the LSU Tigers in Death Valley, he struggled to be consistent and refrain from throwing interceptions.
Costello went from throwing 623 yards, 5 touchdowns, and two picks while completing 60% of his passes against LSU to struggling week in and week out, throwing just one more touchdown and then NINE more interceptions through the remainder of the season.
Just a reminder, Rogers has fared considerably better than that. He’s been far more consistent and has been able to adjust to the way defenses have adjusted to stop him. Rogers has thrown for more than 400 yards four times this season. He’s thrown for at least 300 yards nine times. And he only has eight picks so far on the season despite throwing the ball a total of 538 times in 10 games.
That’s far better than what most are able to accomplish in any offense, but it’s definitely a considerable improvement of what Costello did just last year. To say that any quarterback could have this sort of performance when defenses are expecting the ball to be thrown on essentially every down is just flat out remarkable.
Mississippi State’s offense has improved around Will Rogers, but it has also largely improved because of Will Rogers.
The ability to be that accurate and that consistent is difficult. It helps that Rogers has been exposed to some version of this offense for years, but now he’s doing all of this as a sophomore against SEC defenses who supposedly figured out how to halt the Air Raid a season ago.
Many initially believed this offense would never work in the SEC. After Costello lit LSU up, things changed a bit. But with Costello’s subsequent struggles as defenses adjusted, folks believed the Air Raid was a dud against zone coverage. People once again acted as if the Air Raid could never succeed in the SEC.
And yet, here we are, with Rogers leading the conference in a multitude of categories.
The offense works because he’s able to efficiently dissect opposing defenses.
As his offensive line has given Rogers time and the receivers on the same page with their quarterback, this offense is roaring each and every week. That was certainly true in the second half against the Auburn Tigers, but it’s been an accurate statement all season long.
People are going to overlook what Rogers is accomplishing because they’ll continue to buy the notion that the Air Raid is a gimmick that just shouldn’t be taken seriously. Meanwhile, Mississippi State is in position to go out and compete for second in the SEC West because of his brilliance.
Corral and Young are phenomenal quarterbacks and the offenses they play in are great. Nothing should be taken away from the success they’re having and the way they help their respective teams succeed, but there isn’t another quarterback currently in the SEC I’d want operating Leach’s Air Raid offense than the one leading the Bulldogs and the SEC right now.