FORT WORTH, Texas — The Mississippi State football team will wrap up head coach Mike Leach’s first season on Thursday when the Bulldogs face No. 22 Tulsa in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. CT and will air on ESPN.
Thursday’s game will be the first time that MSU plays in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Bulldogs are the first SEC team to play in the game. It’s Tulsa’s third appearance in this game. The Golden Hurricane are 0-2 all-time in the Armed Forces Bowl.
This is the first meeting between the two football programs.
The Bulldogs have been invited to a program-record 11th consecutive bowl game. This is their 24th bowl game all-time. They won three straight bowl games from 2015-17 but have lost two in a row since and are 13-10 in bowl games.
The Golden Hurricane are making their first bowl appearance since beating Central Michigan 55-10 in the 2016 Miami Beach Bowl.
Mississippi State (3-7) is coming off a 51-32 win over Missouri on Dec. 19.
Freshman quarterback Will Rogers has completed 220 of 316 passes for 1,828 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He recorded a pair of three-TD games for a total of nine TDs with just three total interceptions in the final two months of the regular season.
Freshman receiver Jaden Walley leads the Bulldogs with 48 catches for 691 yards receiving and two TDs. He has four straight 100-yard games and is the first MSU freshman with multiple 100-yard receiving games in 43 years.
Freshman running back Jo’quavious Marks (56), Walley (48), senior receiver Osirus Mitchell (46) and junior receiver Austin Williams (40) make MSU the only program in the country to have four players with 40 or more receptions this season. Marks’ 56 receptions are the most in the FBS among running backs.
Defensively, MSU is led by senior linebacker Erroll Thompson with 87 tackles. Freshman cornerback Emmanuel Forbes is tied for the SEC lead with four interceptions this season. He is among five players nationally to return two interceptions for scores this season. MSU’s rushing defense ranks No. 21 nationally in allowing 125.3 yards rushing per game.
Tulsa sits at 6-2 with its only losses this season coming against ranked opponents. The Golden Hurricane lost their opener 16-7 at then-No. 11 Oklahoma State and fell to No. 6 Cincinnati 27-24 on a field goal as time expired in the American Conference Championship game. Tulsa has been ranked in the AP Top 25 for six straight weeks and beat then-No. 11 UCF 34-26 on the road and then-No. 19 SMU 28-24 at home.
Redshirt senior quarterback Zach Smith has completed 121 of 217 passes for 1,600 yards, 12 TDs and eight interceptions. In two seasons with the Golden Hurricane, Smith has completed 367 of 646 passes for 4,873 yards, 31 TDs and 17 interceptions. He also spent two seasons with Baylor, passing for 2,997 yards, 21 TDs and 15 interceptions in 19 games played.
The Golden Hurricane’s passing attack is led by senior receiver Keylon Stokes, junior receiver Josh Johnson and redshirt junior receiver JuanCarlos Santana. Stokes has made 37 catches for 527 yards receiving and two TDs, Johnson has 495 yards receiving and six TDs on 37 catches and Santana has 432 yards receiving and four TDs on 30 receptions.
Redshirt senior running back Corey Taylor II leads Tulsa with 431 yards rushing and three TDs on 85 carries. Sophomore running back Deneric Prince has carried the ball 80 times for 429 yards rushing and three TDs, while redshirt sophomore running back T.K. Wilkerson has accumulated 317 yards rushing and a team-high four rushing TDs on 80 carries.
Tulsa has the nation’s No. 24 defense in allowing an average of 340.8 yards of offense per game. The Golden Hurricane defense ranks 21st in passing defense (194.8 yards per game), 45th in rushing defense (146.0) and 23rd in scoring defense (20.8 points per game).
Tulsa, however, will be without star linebacker Zaven Collins. The Bronko Nagurski Award winner, which is given annually to the nation’s top college defensive player, announced he will not play in the bowl game as he prepares for the 2021 NFL Draft.