Mississippi State gains more experience in Mike Leach's 'Air Raid' attack

Mississippi State Athletics photo / Mississippi State sixth-year senior receiver Austin Williams was the male recipient of the SEC's 2021-22 Boyd McWhorter Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Last football season ended with a fizzle for Mississippi State, as a 31-21 home loss to rival Ole Miss was followed by a humiliating 34-7 setback against Texas Tech in the Liberty Bowl.

There was, however, one Saturday in November that the Bulldogs won't forget for a long, long time.

At No. 17 Auburn, the Bulldogs found themselves down 28-3 just before halftime before Mike Leach's "Air Raid" attack ignited behind quarterback Will Rogers. In performing the largest comeback in program history, Mississippi State got within 28-10 at the break and then roared past the stunned Tigers 43-34.

"That's definitely something you remember," sixth-year senior receiver Austin Williams said at the Southeastern Conference's recent media days event. "At one point it was 28-3, and you're looking at the scoreboard like, 'This is not how we wanted to draw this up.' After halftime, we came out strong, and from there it was lights out.

"That's something we'll remember for the rest of our lives. It was an amazing afternoon."

Rogers wound up completing 44 of 55 passes for 415 yards and a staggering six touchdowns as Mississippi State prevailed inside Jordan-Hare Stadium for only the third time this century.

"You saw what we could be capable of when we put it all together," Williams said. "I think we saw that our ceiling was pretty high, and we had that confidence that we could compete with anybody on any stage."


Last season: 7-6 (4-4 SEC)Opener: Sept. 3 vs. Memphis in Starkville (7:30 p.m. on ESPNU)Fun fact: Mississippi State has been to 12 straight bowl games. Before this stretch, the Bulldogs had been to just 13 in their history.Up next: Missouri

Rogers is returning for his junior year after completing 505 of 683 attempts (73.9%) for 4,739 yards with 36 touchdowns and nine interceptions for a program seeking to build on a 7-6 season. He set 25 school records a year ago, including his aerial yards and scores that topped the previous standards held by Dak Prescott.

Makai Polk, Mississippi State's leading receiver last season with 105 catches for 1,046 yards, is now with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, but junior Jaden Walley (55 for 628) and Williams (52 for 617) return.

"I think we need to sharpen up at receiver," Leach said. "I think we need to kind of polish up our receiver play. We have good guys who work hard, but I would like to see them have a sense of urgency and that type of thing.

"We have a mixture of really young and old there. I do think we're getting better, and I thought we had a good spring, but I think we can sharpen up there."

Also back for the Bulldogs is junior running back Jo'quavious Marks, who had a whopping 83 catches for 502 yards.

Williams, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, has been an Academic All-American the past two seasons and was the male recipient of the league's 2021-22 Boyd McWhorter Scholar Athlete of the Year. The finance major who is pursuing his master's degree in business administration expects to further flourish in the Air Raid offense.

"I've had the chance to go through multiple springs and camps now," Williams said. "I've gotten a ton of reps under my belt, which is awesome. I really understand the deeper levels of it.

"It's a rep-based offense. On paper, there aren't 400 plays like maybe some other offenses, but there are a lot of intricacies in each play."

Williams added that Rogers has been putting in the hours as well, even studying video of Leach's time at Texas Tech more than a decade ago. Defensively, the Bulldogs want more consistency after allowing more than 30 points seven times but also clamping down in wins against the likes of N.C. State, 24-10, Texas A&M, 26-22, and Kentucky, 31-17.

"We're still I guess on paper kind of a medium young team,' Leach said. "We do have a lot of starts, and I think that's helpful. We do have experience to draw on."

Including one dizzying comeback at Auburn.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.