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Bulldogs run wild over Missouri in regular-season finale

STARKVILLE (AP) — It took all season, but Mississippi State finally showed a glimpse of the kind of team it hopes to become under head coach Mike Leach.

Will Rogers threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns to lead Mississippi State to a 51-32 victory over Missouri on Saturday.

After weeks of floundering offensively, Mississippi State (3-7) finally got many of its young weapons working in tandem and had a season-high point total. It scored more than 24 points for the first time since putting up 44 in the season opener against LSU.

“I thought we’ve had it in us, but as far as getting everything congruent, that’s been the challenge,” Leach said. “And it was a challenge tonight too. We still have kind of a skeleton crew out there.”

The Bulldogs racked up 446 yards of total offense, including a season-high 151 on the ground. Their previous high was 87 yards in a loss to Arkansas in the second game of the year.

The Bulldogs also ran the ball a season-high 28 times. It was only the third time this season they have run it more than 20 times in a game, and the first time they have had more than 100 yards as a team.

Jo’quavious Marks led the Bulldogs with 12 carries for 70 yards and one touchdown. Dillon Johnson had eight carries for 47 yards.

“I thought we played better on the offensive line, and I thought our backs did a better job reading holes, things like that,” Leach said. “Some of the balls we threw early probably opened things up for us too.”

Missouri (5-5) logged 342 yards of total offense, most of it after the outcome of the game was already decided, and turned the ball over four times. This is the second-straight .500 finish for the Tigers.

Conner Bazelak was 22-of-38 passing for 225 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions for Missouri. Larry Rountree led all rushers with 121 yards and two touchdowns.

“I don’t think we drank any Kool-Aid,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “The fact is, we’re down to 52 players. The guy that was our starting quarterback the first two games of the season played safety for us the entire second half. We’re doing every single thing we can just to play the game. When you get down to this kind of stuff, execution is not where it needs to be to be successful, and that’s what happened.”

Mississippi State led 27-10 at the half and Marks punched in another score on the opening drive of the third quarter.

Jaden Walley led all MSU receivers with five catches for 129 yards. Rogers was 21-of-36 passing and had one interception.

“We’ve had a high tempo in practices, and it finally carried over into the game,” Marks said. “We’ve been trying to put that together. Now I think it’ll bleed over into next season and into the bowl game.”

If the Bulldogs can improve their running game enough to keep defenses honest, as they did tonight, the Air Raid offense might just be a winning ticket in the SEC. More than half of the team’s offensive production this year has come from true freshmen.

A total of 26 Mississippi State players had their first start this season.

“You know we have been competitive all year, we just do it incongruently,” Leach said. “We do it in spurts and segmented. We’re a young team anyway, but then you add contact tracing and all that stuff and it’s been hard to get the tent over the circus, so to speak.”