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Will Rogers return to Bulldogs lineup...

Will Rogers return to Bulldogs lineup makes Egg Bowl more interesting

By: Parrish Alford - November 19, 2023

Photo Credit: Mississippi State Athletics

Mississippi State cruised to victory, 41-20, over Southern Miss. Rogers return at signal caller could provide glimmer of hope in Egg Bowl.

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football isn’t back, so to speak, but Will Rogers is, and that’s the first step to short-term wellness in a painful Bulldogs’ season.

Rogers played for the first time in more than five weeks Saturday as the Bulldogs defeated in-state co-struggler Southern Mississippi 41-20 at Davis Wade Stadium.

At the beginning of the season this game looked to have some late-season intrigue as the Golden Eagles had steadily risen in Will Hall’s first two years. Then November arrived, and it looked very different.

Under normal circumstances victory against this version of the Golden Eagles would not be cause for celebration, but programs in transition measure success differently.

The Bulldogs hadn’t won since Rogers helped them beat Western Michigan on Oct. 7.

Now, with a fifth win in pocket, this team can still reach bowl-eligibility if it upsets Ole Miss here Thursday night.

It’s hard to believe Will Rogers would want to play football at Mississippi State next season, that he wouldn’t want to hold tight to the memories of his time under Mike Leach and call it a career, but Rogers has that extra COVID season that he could use here or someplace else.

Rogers may be intrigued by the choice to replace Zach Arnett, and for whoever that is, it’s a conversation worth having.

Rogers finished 12-for-27 for 144 yards and two touchdowns, numbers that would have been a little better without a handful of dropped passes. He made good decisions and didn’t throw a pick.

He didn’t look rusty alone as much as the offense looked rusty together.

The Bulldogs also had some special teams buffoonery, most notably a 98-yard kick return touchdown by Jakarius Caston that kept the Golden Eagles in the game late, down just 26-20 with 7 minutes, 52 seconds left.

The Eagles, with quarterback issues of their own as starter Billy Wiles was less than full strength, were inconsistent from snap to snap, but hit enough big plays to make it interesting.

It took two long runs by Jeffery Pittman after the Caston touchdown for State to reestablish control.

Interim coach Greg Knox sees Rogers progressing.

“It was good, wasn’t great, it was good. He shook some rust off, he’s getting better. We’ve got to get him back to his form. Know him, he’ll come out Monday and go to work. He just let the team know that in the locker room,” Knox said.

In the imperfect storm that cost Zach Arnett an SEC coaching job Will Rogers was the centerpiece.

The body of work said it was time to move on from Arnett.

Once upon a time coaches had several years, maybe four was the number, to get their first class into the program and develop them.

As rocker/philosopher Cyndi Lauper sang to us, money changes everything.

Administrators demand more to justify the big coaching salaries, and that may be last on the list. Donors demand more to keep the cash flowing. The cash has to flow to remake the stadiums, office and practice facilities with state-of-the-art amenities to attract recruits.

The cash has to flow to pay the recruits through NIL.

When you lose donor support it forces your hand as an administrator.

A picture-perfect day against an in-state opponent showed you where support is for this team right now.

Would Mississippi State football be where it is if Will Rogers hadn’t gotten hurt?

It wouldn’t, but neither would it have met the expectations of the experienced unit that returned.

Rogers didn’t make a smooth transition to a new offense. He struggled against the better SEC West teams in blowout home losses against LSU and Alabama.

In between he threw for 487 yards against South Carolina.

The available passing windows were different against the Crimson Tide the next week, but those windows would have reappeared against Arkansas – a win that felt like a loss – Auburn and Kentucky.

Every team looks different when it loses QB1, and there’s no understating the importance of that position, but offense hasn’t been the program’s only problem this year.

In the postgame Rogers passed on a chance at pre-Egg Bowl smack when asked about his message to the team.

“Everybody knows the elephant in the room and what the next game is. I’ll let you figure that out,” he said.

Just having Rogers back on the field brought a jolt of energy. He drew cheers when his starting assignment was announced on the video board.

It was a difficult spot for a comeback.

The game he wants badly is Thursday night against Ole Miss. He needed this warm-up game first, but if the shoulder doesn’t respond to his first game back – and things sometimes look different the day after – then he’s got a shorter time to heal and be ready for the Rebels.

Don’t count him out, Knox says.

“What Will brings to the table, his attitude, his work ethic, his motivation, his enthusiasm … he is energy to this team. Every day, every meeting he’s there. He sits up front. That young man is special. I love his leadership, and everything he does.”

About the Author(s)
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Parrish Alford

Parrish Alford brings the cumulative wisdom that comes from three decades of covering Mississippi sports to Magnolia Tribune. His outstanding contributions to sports reporting in the state have twice been recognized with Sports Writer of the Year awards. Alford currently serves as the associate editor of American Family News.