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What we learned from Mississippi...

What we learned from Mississippi State’s 2023 SEC Media Day

By: James Bryan Harrell - July 19, 2023

One of the biggest takeaways from Mississippi State’s SEC media day was the role experience will play for the Bulldogs in the upcoming 2023 football season under new Head Coach Zach Arnett.

The unofficial kickoff to Southeastern Conference (SEC) football season is upon us.

The 2023 SEC Media Days are currently taking place in Nashville, Tennessee. As Wednesday evening, eight of the conference’s 14 teams have appeared before the media, with the remaining six to come on Wednesday and Thursday.

For the Mississippi State Bulldogs, first-year Head Coach Zach Arnett, Quarterback Will Rogers, Running Back Woody Marks, and Defensive Lineman Jaden Crumedy took the stage on Tuesday afternoon. 

Here’s a little of what we learned about the Bulldogs:

Mike Leach is still impacting the SEC and Mississippi State

In his opening address on Monday morning, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey sported an interesting look. In contrast to his usual formal attire, Sankey went with an open-collar shirt, not wearing a necktie. Sankey later explained that this was in tribute to the late Mike Leach.

Leach and Sankey had a conversation in 2022 about the uselessness of neckties and Leach’s disdain for them. This look was just one of the ways Sankey honored Leach’s memory. The Commissioner went on to talk about Leach’s massive impact on college football and all who knew him. This theme of memory was one that was a constant for MSU at this year’s media days.

Another person that invoked the memory of Leach was new Head Coach Zach Arnett. Arnett, the former Defensive Coordinator who took over for Leach, was quick to mention all he learned from The Pirate.

Calling Leach a “unanimous Hall of Famer,” Arnett mentioned that Leach’s “fingerprints are all over the game of football,” saying how integral Leach was in his own development as a coach.

Arnett stated that he is looking to continue building the program identity that Mike Leach brought to the Bulldogs, that being playing physical, disciplined football and giving maximum effort on each and every play. 

 Zach Arnett is the right man for the job 

Arnett took the podium late Tuesday, making an opening statement before fielding questions from the media. One of the most impressive things about his speech was the confidence Arnett portrayed. On the podium, it would be hard to guess that Arnett is a first-year Head Coach with only three years of SEC experience.

While Arnett’s road to the position is unprecedented in college football, he spoke like someone who has been coaching in the league for years. He talked heavily about the Bulldog’s mentality and brand of football, stating that the team will continue to be the hard working, tough team that fans have grown to love. In Arnett’s words, “When you play Mississippi State, you better pack your lunch box and hard hat.” 

Along with this, fans will be sure to find confidence in the decisions Arnett has made in compiling his coaching staff. As he revealed, Arnett will be stepping back from play calling duties, leaving that up to new Defensive Coordinator Matt Brock. This was the same strategy in last season’s bowl game against Illinois, where Arnett picked up his first win as Head Coach.

Arnett’s passion for Starkville and Mississippi State was on clear display, something that players and fans alike will be sure to love. It seems that the Bulldog mentality is truly alive and well under Zach Arnett. 

What the post air raid offensive scheme will look like

One of the biggest questions for Mississippi State is what the offense will look like under Zac Arnett.

For the past few seasons, the Bulldogs have been running the Leach-style “Air Raid” offense, rarely running the ball and instead relying on the passing game. However, under Arnett and new Offensive Coordinator Kevin Barbay, this may be changing.

When asked about the new offensive scheme, Arnett relayed a story from the Offensive Coordinator hiring process. According to Arnett, he asked each candidate for OC what their offensive scheme would look like. Barbay answered by saying, “Well that depends on who our best 11 players are.” Arnett went on to explain that the scheme wouldn’t be dictated by coaches, but rather would be dependent on what group of personnel the Bulldogs decide to use.

With that in mind, fans can expect the offensive scheme to shift a good bit, as State has a wealth of talented running backs, including Jaquavious “Woody” Marks, who has been receiving a lot of hype in the preseason. 

Along with the offensive scheme, Arnett discussed the quarterback situation, as Mississippi State landed Vanderbilt transfer Mike Wright in the offseason. While Wright is a dynamic playmaker and has experience, Arnett backed longtime Bulldog QB Will Rogers, stating that Rogers will be the starter. However, Arnett later revealed that Wright may be used in some situations to throw a wrinkle at opponents. It will be interesting to see just how much Mississippi State uses this two QB system during the season. 

Experience is one of MSU’s strengths

One of the biggest takeaways from Mississippi State’s media day was the role experience will play in the upcoming season.

While Zach Arnett doesn’t have any experience as a Head Coach, save the one Bowl game, he is returning 11 starters from a 9-win season in 2022. As far as the offensive side of the ball goes, State is loaded with experience at most positions, and figures to have many senior leaders. Included in these are many of the top playmakers on both sides of the ball. Most notably, perhaps, is Quarterback Will Rogers, who has put up monster numbers during his time as the starter. Along with Rogers, Running Back “Woody” Marks is returning and expected to make a big jump in 2023. This experience can go a long way for the Bulldogs, as these returning starters have shown that they can win in the SEC. 

The same can be said for the defense, as standouts Jett Johson, Nathaniel Watson, Nathan Pickering, and Jaden Crumedy will return for 2023. While the Bulldogs need to retool the secondary, the front seven will have players who have both experience and success in the SEC. Arnett talked about how these returning starters are already proving themselves as leaders in the offseason, helping to elevate the play of their teammates.

With the addition of big name transfers on both sides of the ball, Mississippi State should be one of the more experienced rosters across the SEC and the nation. Only time will tell if this experience can translate into success for the Bulldogs.

College Football is changing

So far into SEC Media Days, there has been a lot of talk around conference realignment, the 12-team playoff, and the NIL system. All of this just goes to show how rapidly the game of college football is changing. These changes, naturally, will impact the SEC and Mississippi State.

When asked about the 12-team playoff format beginning next year, Head Coach Arnett stated that at Mississippi State, the “proof is in the pudding.” Arnett reminisced on the 2014 season in which the Bulldogs were ranked #1 in the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings. He used this to make the point that in a 12-team format, that Bulldog team would have made the playoff. Arnett went on to describe what this can mean for recruiting in the future, as Mississippi State can show high school prospects that Starkville is a place where they can achieve their dreams and play at the highest level.

While appearing on the Paul Finebaum show, Quarterback Will Rogers was asked about the NIL structure and his thoughts on the current system. Rogers talked about how the transfer portal rules, when combined with the current NIL structure, can upset the competitive balance of college football. Commissioner Sankey has called for more oversight for the NIL structure, stating that the current environment can “put the long-term viability of collegiate athletics at risk.”

Change is already here in college sports, with even more on the way, and it will be interesting to see how things shake out for Mississippi State and the SEC this season. 

About the Author(s)
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James Bryan Harrell

James Bryan Harrell writes about Mississippi sports and culture for Magnolia Tribune. JB is a native of West Point and is a senior at Vanderbilt University, where he is majoring in communications.