Mississippi State Football returned from a 3-10 deficit to beat Illinois 19-10 at halftime in Mike Leach’s Swan Song game at the 2023 Leriaquest Bowl in Tampa, Florida, to throw a thriller. played.
For the Bulldogs, the Zach Arnett era kicks off on a high note. They finished the season at his 9-4, the first season since 2017 with nine wins or more, and a fitting sendoff to Mike Leach and his legacy.
Ending the season is another headache for Illinois. Illinois hasn’t won a bowl game since his 2011 (he beat UCLA 20-14 in the Fight Hunger Bowl). They also end the season losing four of their last five games.
Now that the dust has settled, here are Mississippi State’s three main takeaways after closing out the season with a bowl win.
On the attacking side of the ball, the Bulldogs looked sluggish in the first half of the game.
Mississippi could barely move the ball down the field in the first half. They made five drives resulting in two punts, two turnovers, and a field goal.
Illinois played aggressive man coverage in a defense that really hurt Mississippi State’s offensive play. Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers had one in the red zone and one in double man coverage. threw two picks, including
The Illinois defense held the Bulldogs to a field goal before halftime. Going into the second half, the Bulldogs made a great adjustment and tied the game with a touchdown drive.
In the second half, Will Rodgers passed 14/18 for 122 yards and one touchdown. Wide his receivers Jaden Whalley and Justin Robinson played a big part in helping the Bulldogs get down on the field and convert on key plays.
Robinson had seven receptions for 81 yards and one touchdown, and was named Lelia Quest Bowl MVP. He averaged 11.6 yards per reception.
Despite the lackluster performance, Bulldog was able to pull it together and come out on top.
Defensive performance and discipline
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On defense, the Bulldogs put a lot of pressure on the Illinois offense, but at times seemed undisciplined.
Illinois stayed with just 35 rushing yards while quarterback Tommy DeVito was pressured repeatedly by the Bulldogs defensive line. Illinois also down his third with his conversion making him 3/11.
However, the Bulldog defender got too cocky and scored a penalty that could have easily been avoided. For example, after the Bulldog safety his Sean his Preston Jr. made a taunt after an incomplete pass, his stop on third down automatically turned into his first down.
Additionally, the Bulldogs continued to hook their hands in the cookie jar on third downs with multiple defensive holding calls. They went 6-55 on penalties in the Leria Quest Bowl.
Illinois wasn’t entirely clean on penalties either. Their offensive line was highly erratic, giving up many false starts, including one that negated a touchdown. Regardless, defensive discipline could have been better for both teams.
Bulldogs linebackers Nathaniel Watson and Jett Johnson were defensive threats, recording two combined sacks and tackles for loss. CB Emmanuel Forbes also recorded seven tackles in what was likely his last game at Mississippi State.
Cornerback Marcus Banks, who moved from Alabama to Mississippi during the offseason, saw the Bulldogs scoop the ball and score on Illinois’ end-of-regulation-winning attempt in the final ditch to clinch the win. Helped me seal it.
Overall, the defense looked very good, albeit with a few flaws, and helped secure Mike Leach’s legacy game victory.
impact and future
This win means a lot to the Mississippi State team, fans and community. Because the team has been through difficult times.
For one thing, Mike Leach’s tenure couldn’t have ended in a more memorable way as the team returned home with a triumph in the proper pirate decor of Raymond James Stadium.
New head coach Zach Arnett also begins his term with a bang. He had other offers from other schools and could have left at any time, but decided to stay loyal to Bulldog in a move that has paid off for him and his team.
Bulldog season is over and there’s a lot to look forward to in Mississippi as the bulldog future looks bright.