STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State head football coach Mike Leach answered questions following Saturday’s 24-17 homecoming win over Vanderbilt.
Leach started out by giving his overall impressions of the win.
“I thought we did a really good job taking the ball away from them and played hard. [We] gave up some big plays, definitely sloppy at times with the little screen thing. I thought we did some good things on defense. I thought we were solid on special teams with some highlight plays here and there, like the 63-yard punt, and we’re consistent kicking it off,” Leach said. “Offensively, I think that we grew a little and got a little better. It was a pretty good win for a guy like Will Rogers, in his first start. We’ve got to be a tougher team on offense. I think offensively, we as coaches have to find a way to generate toughness in our offensive players because right now, I don’t think they’re very tough. We’re going to have to adjust some, but it was a great team win and I’m very proud of our team and proud of our players.”
Mississippi State scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and went to the halftime break with a 17-0 lead. After that, the offense was quiet until the fourth quarter. There was a stretch where the Bulldogs punted the ball on seven consecutive possessions and had just 42 yards of total offense. Leach spoke about adjustments Vanderbilt made.
“I have a lot of respect for Vanderbilt. They really didn’t do anything,” Leach said. “They just saw us, lined up and pressured us some and basically watched us take turns screwing up, playing timid, and sitting on the sideline with blank, wide-eyed faces. I’m getting sick and tired of that.”
Leach then spoke about Rogers’ performance.
“We had a number of people unavailable today, so I thought he did a pretty good job working through that. In spurts, he did play well. I thought it was really impressive for a true freshman like all these true freshman sensations,” Leach said. “I think Will stayed relatively composed. I thought that he rallied at the end.”
Leach says the quarterback job will still be a week-to-week decision until one of them jumps off the charts. Leach said he’ll “probably” split the reps between them.
Freshman running back Jo’quavious Marks had six carries for 10 yards rushing and a touchdown. He also had seven catches for 22 yards in the game. The numbers don’t look great, but Leach has been impressed with him.
“I think he’s getting better all the time. He’s another guy that I think has played impressively as a freshman,” Leach said. “We call him Woody to make the pronunciation a bit easier on us. He steadily improves. He’s a guy that came in there and wasn’t intimidated – he wasn’t one of those intimidated freshmen. He came ready to play. He’s alert. He’s a smart guy; he’s a pretty distinctive guy. Even though I think his best days are ahead, he’s certainly a big asset for us now.”
There are those who believe the Air Raid offense isn’t fit for the Southeastern Conference, but Leach has a message for those who are concerned about his game plan.
“Every job that I’ve ever had, all I’ve promised was to give my very best, and they’ve certainly gotten that,” Leach said. “I get a kick out of fans feeling like they’re upset about something. They ought to try it from the coaches’ and players’ standpoint. The chicken’s involved, but the pig’s committed. Coaches and players, we’re like the pigs. I certainly appreciate our fans’ support and their cowbells. I thought we had a great crowd, and I thought they did a great job as far as lifting our team in key times and inspiring us on all sides of the ball, because there were contributions on all three sides of the ball. Those who aren’t on board or are impatient, maybe they could select another team, or maybe they could go coach their own team. Then we can evaluate how their team does and see how it all shakes out.”