No. 24 Mississippi State faces Illinois with heavy hearts

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Mississippi State players and staff know what Mike Leach wants them to do after the Bulldogs coach died of heart complications on December 12. I felt that

“They understand that Manager Leach is doing exactly what he asks of us,” said Zach Arnett, who was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach three days after his death.

“And it’s all about closing out this season and staying focused on the game, working and getting ready,” Arnett added. Get out there, play the full game, and compete as he expects us to.

Mississippi quarterback Will Rogers will play an additional role for the world’s No. 24 Bulldogs (8-4, No. 22 CFP) ahead of Monday’s matchup against Illinois (8-4). One of the team leader’s group.

“We have great people in our program,” says Arnett. “They have probably had a bigger impact on our locker room, our approach and resilience than I or any coach.”

Rodgers, who passed 386 of 566 for 3,713 yards and 34 touchdowns, faces an Illinois defense that has allowed less than 10 points in six games this season.

Illinois lost all four games by 8 points or less, including a 19–17 loss to Michigan. This is his third Bowl game since his 20-14 victory over UCLA in the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

“We do this, right?” said Illinois coach Brett Bierema. “It’s starting to work, right? You have to make sure you keep the tanks properly fueled. Once we’re on the road, continue checking and maintaining our vehicles.”

Illinois Won’t Turn Back Chase Brown.

Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito had the nation’s third-highest pass completion rate of 69.9 percent (234 of 335) during the regular season. He threw for 2,397 yards and 15 touchdowns and had four interceptions.

Mississippi has been in a bowl game for 13 straight years, but never before.

“The bowl game is their reward for a year of hard work and success this season,” Arnett said. “They certainly deserve this opportunity.”


Bielema’s wife, Jen, is from Tampa and was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital, less than two miles from the gaming site. She attended the University of South Florida in Tampa.

“Sometimes I come home and she’s still wearing a tattered sweatshirt,” Bierema said. “So going to Tampa and going around a lot of her family and friends is going to be huge this year for us personally.”


Illinois OL Alex Palchewski is set to make his 65th career start, tying Appalachian WR Thomas Hennigan (2017-21) for the most in NCAA history. He joins Mo Gardner (1989-90), becoming the only Illinois player to captain two bowls in his game.


Illinois: Open next season at home against Toledo on September 2

Mississippi: Host Southeast Louisiana on September 2nd.


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