The Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-3, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) outlasted the Western Michigan Broncos (2-4, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) 41-28 on Saturday afternoon in a game of attrition, as both teams suffered significant injuries to players at an alarming rate.
Before the game started the Broncos were without usual starting quarterback Treyson Bourguet and starting running back Jalen Buckley. Both played a week ago, but Buckley left the game in the second half with what looked like a lower leg injury.
Jack Salopek started under center for the Broncos and had a tough time finding a rhythm in the offense. The Broncos were always going to struggle to get a push from the front line and the running game couldn’t take any pressure off of him.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs took advantage of good field position to open a 10-0 lead. Will Rogers did start for Mississippi State, but left the game intermittently throughout until he left permanently in the second half. Their first drive stalled out inside the WMU 15-yard line and finished with a field goal. Their second drive covered 54 yards in five plays and finished with Jordan Mosley catching a 15-yard touchdown pass.
All credit to WMU for playing to win, but they had two drives end after failed fourth-down attempts in their first three drives. Eventually, the Bulldogs would find the endzone again and go up 17-0 in the second quarter. Western Michigan would win the balance of the game 28-24, but that doesn’t count for much.
The Bronco offense looked totally different after they made a quarterback change and brought in Old Dominion transfer Hayden Wolff. His first drive was labored, but it worked to get the Broncos on the board before halftime. The drive took 14 plays but covered the 75 yards to the endzone and converted three third downs and a fourth down. Wolff found Hence after some crafty motion before the snap to create the space he needed to get open for the score.
Mississippi State fumbled the kickoff and the Broncos recovered it in Mississippi State territory.
Ultimately, the Broncos would miss a field goal as time expired, but they went into halftime with momentum.
The first four drives in the second half each found the endzone and created a shootout. The Broncos were unable to overcome the deficit created early in the game but they showed great fight to stay in it and make Mississippi State sweat.
What Decided the Game
The Broncos made it too easy for Mississippi State to get into scoring position. They kicked the ball deep once, forced a fumble and never did it again. The short kick offs coupled with three drives that ended on fourth down for the Broncos gave the Bulldogs incredible field position all day.
The Bulldogs average starting field position was their own 43-yard line. Their offense is too much for Western Michigan on short fields, but that seemed to be something the Broncos were okay with. The Bulldogs were able to create scoring opportunities on nine of their 12 drives.
On top of their good field position, Mississippi State was very explosive. Seventeen of their 64 plays were longer than ten yards. Four went for more than 20 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown pass with an acrobatic catch by Freddie Roberson.
Some of the big plays were just breakdowns in the backend, a problem that frequently plagues Western Michigan.
Long story short, despite the Broncos keeping it close and hanging around, they made it way too easy for Mississippi State to score. With short fields and defensive breakdowns, the Broncos gave up more than 40 points to their fourth FBS opponent of the five they have faced.
Stats That Tell the Story
Mississippi State is still getting the air raid out of their offensive system, but today they had their running game working. The Broncos created a tackle for loss occasionally, but the Bulldogs averaged 5.9 yards per rush. They didn’t have an every-down back but Seth Davis, Kevone Lee and Jo’Quavious Marks combined for 23 rushes for 152 yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs were also having more and more success as the game wore on. They averaged 5.6 yards per play in the first quarter, 6.6 in the second, 7.4 in the third and 8.1 in the fourth. Mississippi State scored 24 second-half points and ended the game with the ball three yards away from the endzone. They could’ve broken the 50-point barrier if they wanted to run one more play.
Individually, when Will Rogers was in the game he was unstoppable. He completed 16 of his 22 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. He was able to find his open receivers and have a great day. His scrambling and the Bronco defense hitting him repeatedly is what ended his day prematurely. Robinson and his favorite target Lideatrick Griffin had great days. Each had at least four catches and more than 60 yards.
Kenneth Womack led all receivers with 12 catches for 113 yards. This was definitely his coming out party and showed that he should get the ball consistently in the Bronco passing attack.
Leroy Thomas had three catches for 61 yards and this 28-yard touchdown catch.
Western Michigan really needed that play. Mississippi State just extended the lead to 17 and it was fourth-and-two with the Broncos in plus territory. If they wanted a chance to make something happen later, they needed points on this drive. Wolff launched the ball downfield for an all-or-nothing play on fourth down and Thomas made an incredible catch.
Wolff might have played himself into a quarterback controversy in Kalamazoo. His final stat line was 27-of-35 attempts for 262 yards, three touchdowns and one interception late in the fourth quarter. The Broncos were in push mode and needed to force the ball downfield to keep the dream alive. He’s definitely not as mobile as Bourguet, but his medium-depth passing game is the best of the three so far.
Important Going Forward
Injuries. So, so, so many injuries.
There were so many I’m probably going to miss one in this rundown. Obviously, Bourguet and Buckley were held out before the game started. As the game wore on, Anthony Sambucci left the game, both starting tackles Tedi Kushi and Michael Shannahan III left in the first half, wide receiver Malique Dieudonne got hurt and defensive end Corey Walker stayed down on the final drive. Cornerback Dashon Bussell was in a lot of pain in the third quarter after a play as well.
Hopefully, some of the holdouts were precautionary. Mississippi State and the Broncos were both cautious with playing time, knowing that the conference games remaining on the schedule are more important than this one.
The momentum that the Bronco offense had coming into the week is maintained by another great output. Head coach Lance Taylor and offensive coordinator Billy Cosh might have a decision to make at the quarterback position in the future. I think Cosh values mobility from his quarterback and Bourguet will be in as soon as he is ready, but how long is his leash? Wolff can clearly operate the passing game and with a stable of effective running backs, it might be easy to try something else for a series or two.
The Broncos head home to Waldo Stadium to host the Miami RedHawks. Miami is looking like a team in contention for the MAC East title and will be favored on the road.