Mississippi State football mailbag: What's Leach's record in rivalries? Which seniors will return?

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  • Mississippi State Bulldogs
    Mississippi State Bulldogs
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Matt Corral
    American football quarterback

STARKVILLE — For the first quarter, Mississippi State football was the better team in the Egg Bowl.

But the Bulldogs (7-5, 4-4 SEC) settled for field goals instead of finding the end zone in the first half — and they missed two of those field goal attempts. Those missed opportunities helped result in a 31-21 loss to No. 8 Ole Miss (10-2, 6-2) on Thursday, ending the regular season with a dud.

There’s still a bowl game to look forward to, with the Texas Bowl a likely destination. But before turning the page there, here are key questions and answers recapping the Egg Bowl.

SEASON VIEW: Mississippi State football has improved, but with missed chances, it 'wasn't really satisfactory'

REPORT CARD: How we graded Mississippi State football for Egg Bowl loss to Ole Miss. Nothing higher than C.

Did Matt Corral or Will Rogers play better?

Looking at the raw stats will only get you so far. Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers attempted 58 passes — 25 more than Ole Miss’ Matt Corral — so he naturally threw for more yards (336 compared to 229).

But Rogers wasn’t synced with his receivers to the extent he usually is, completing just 66% of his passes, the second lowest of his season. Rogers took care of the ball, avoiding any interceptions, but he’ll rue a throw in the first quarter that just missed an open Makai Polk for a touchdown. Three drops from receivers before halftime didn’t help, either.

Corral threw an interception to linebacker Jett Johnson that offered the Bulldogs a glimmer of an opportunity. He also missed on a few downfield passes. But the Rebels converted 11 of their 18 third-down attempts, three of which came via Corral scrambles. He also scored a touchdown on the ground, capping the run with a spin move into the end zone.

“A lot of those were third down and shorts, which, of course, they earned that,” coach Mike Leach said. “I also think the leadership of their quarterback played in as far as them being effective on third downs. I thought he really did a good job on some of those and carried it himself on some of them.”

Thursday’s game didn’t come down to which quarterback played better. There were far more factors at play. But Corral’s team won, and as Leach often says, the quarterbacks who elevate the players around them in a big moment are often the best ones.

Which seniors should be expected to return?

Mississippi State held senior day before the game, but there weren’t many major contributors honored. Of the 11 recognized, there were two kickers and one punter. There was a walk-on running back and two walk-on receivers.

The biggest losses will be safety Fred Peters and offensive linemen LaQuinston Sharp and Scott Lashley, all three of whom are starters.

But the seniors who weren’t recognized offer a glimpse at who will return, granted an extra year of eligibility. There are major contributors there, including wide receivers Austin Williams and Jamire Calvin, linebackers Jordan Davis and Tyrus Wheat and offensive lineman Cordavien Suggs.

That group joins an underclassmen-heavy squad set to return most of the major contributors.

"Don't get too tired of these guys,” Leach said. “You're gonna see nearly all of them next year."

What loss did this remind you of?

After the game, Leach said Mississippi State played franticly at times. The maturity of Ole Miss in a rivalry game showed through.

“Sometimes we tried to make a little too much happen,” Leach said.

That’s reminiscent of the Bulldogs’ loss to Alabama, the team’s worst performance of the season. In that defeat last month, Johnson said “We let the logo get us down a little bit — the ‘A’ and stuff.”

Mississippi State will need to correct that moving forward. Getting older, and suffering these losses, could help.

What’s Leach’s record in rivalry games?

Leach is now 0-2 against Ole Miss, but his troubles against in-state rivals has a long history. At Washington State, Leach’s teams won just one Apple Cup game against Washington — toppling the Huskies in 2012 before losing seven straight.

When Leach coached Texas Tech, his record against Texas was lopsided, too. The Longhorns won eight of the 10 matchups with the Red Raiders between 2000-09.

Overall, Leach has won three of the 20 in-state rivalry games he’s coached in.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi State football mailbag: Mike Leach's rivalry game record