Mississippi State honors late Mike Leach celebrates season opener

Mississippi State honors late Mike Leach, celebrates season opener – ESPN – ESPN

Associated Press September 2, 2023, 9:14 PM ET2 Minute Read

STARKVILLE, Miss. – Will Rogers threw for 227 yards and Mississippi State overcame a slow start with a running game that produced 300 yards on the ground en route to a 48-7 victory over Southeastern Louisiana in the season opener for both schools Saturday.

The game marked the debut of head coach Zach Arnett, who coached the Bulldogs in the ReliaQuest Bowl win over Illinois, capping the 2022 season after legendary coach Mike Leach suddenly passed away last December. Leach was honored by the Bulldogs after the first quarter in the presence of his widow, Sharon.

The Bulldogs led just 3-0 at the end of the first quarter before putting up 17 points in the second quarter to build a 20-7 lead at halftime. In the second half, MSU finally managed to assert itself.

“I thought we got better in the second half,” Arnett said. “I thought [Southeast Louisiana] had a great plan. I think they did a great job with their plan. We still have a long way to go and it will only get harder from here. We can either become complacent and think we did something special, or we can be honest with ourselves, watch the film and improve.”

Rogers was 20 of 29 passing, passing Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel to rank seventh in SEC history in career passing yards. Rogers now has 10,916 yards and is chasing Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray’s 13,166 yard mark.

“I think it took us a second to settle in,” Rogers said. “As a leader and a senior, you stay the course. You let the game come to you and I thought we did that. That being said, we still need to do a lot better.”

Jo’Quavious “Woody” Marks finished the game with 19 carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns along with four catches for 59 yards. It was the first time since 2019 that an MSU running back rushed for over 100 yards in a game.

Freshman Creed Whittemore had a great game at wide receiver with four catches for 59 yards and a score and two rushes for 57 yards, including a score for 33 yards. Vanderbilt transfer Mike Wright also played an important role, running five times for 95 yards.

MSU outscored the Lions 525-208 and had 282 yards on the ground. It was the first time since 2019 that the Bulldogs rushed for more than 200 yards.

Defensively, preseason All-SEC linebacker Nathaniel Watson led the team with eight tackles and 1.5 sacks.

The victory was the first regular season win for Arnett, who made his debut on New Year’s Day in Tampa and was his first home game.

Arnett drew attention to himself and praised the work of his players.

“It’s all about the players. Players prepare. Players go out and get ready to play. Players make plays,” Arnett said. “This is a player-first program. That’s why season tickets sell out here and why everyone wants to come and create a great environment. I’m glad they can go out there, be celebrated and start the season off with a good win.”