Mississippi State runs past Southeastern Louisiana in season opener

Published 8:34 pm Saturday, September 2, 2023

STARKVILLE (AP) — Mississippi State honored The Pirate by plundering a victory.

Will Rogers threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, and Mississippi State overcame a slow start with a running game that churned out nearly 300 yards en route to a 48-7 win over Southeastern Louisiana in the season opener for both schools on Saturday.

The game marked the debut of head coach Zach Arnett, who coached the Bulldogs in the ReliaQuest Bowl win over Illinois to close the 2022 season after legendary coach Mike Leach died suddenly last December. Leach, affectionately known as “The Pirate,” was honored by the Bulldogs following the first quarter with his widow, Sharon in attendance.

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The Bulldogs had just a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter before putting up 17 points in the second for a 20-7 lead at the half. MSU managed to find its footing in the second half to pull away for good.

“I thought we got better in the second half,” Arnett said. “I thought (SELA) had a great plan. I think they did a tremendous job with their plan. We’ve got a long way to go and it only gets tougher from here. We can either get complacent and think we’ve done something special or be truthful to ourselves, watch the film and improve.”

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

“I think it took a second for us to get settled in,” Rogers said. “As a leader and a senior, you stay the course. You let the game come to you and I thought that we did that. With that being said, we’ve got to do a lot better.”

Jo’Quavious “Woody” Marks finished with 19 carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns, and added four catches for 59 yards. It was the first time a Mississippi State running back went over 100 yards rushing in a game since 2019.

Freshman Creed Whittemore had a huge game at wide receiver with four catches for 59 yards and a score. He also added two rushes for 57 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown. Vanderbilt transfer Mike Wright was also a major factor, rushing five times for 95 yards.

MSU out gained the Lions 525-208 and had 298 yards on the ground. It was the first time since 2019 that the Bulldogs have rushed for more than 200 yards.

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

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

Arnett deflected any of the attention on himself and praised his players’ work.

“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. It’s the reason season tickets are sold out here and why everyone wants to come and create a great environment. I’m glad they got to go out there, be celebrated and start the season off with a victory.”