This past weekend, the Mississippi State University Bulldogs traveled to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee, to face the Tigers of the University of Memphis. This was a big game for MSU, because if the Bulldogs were to win, they would head into SEC play 3-0 with a top 25 status before playing LSU this coming weekend. The results, however, did not bode well for those hopes.
To start with, MSU didn’t exactly get rolling on the right foot. On the team’s first offensive drive, sophomore running back Jo’quavious Marks fumbled a handoff that led to a 49-yard fumble recovery that was returned for a touchdown, setting the score at 7-0 Memphis’s lead after the extra point attempt with a whole 12:02 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs would get rolling, though, as they managed to score a field goal and two touchdowns on their next three drives, sending MSU into halftime with a fairly controlling 17-7 lead. That, however, was short lived.
Following some questionable play-calling on a 4th and goal where MSU decided to try for the touchdown instead of opting to kick a field goal, Memphis was able to swing the momentum in their favor, and boy did they ever swing it.
On the following drive, the Tigers were able to find their No. 1 man, redshirt senior wide receiver Calvin Austin III for a 21-yard touchdown through the air for the only score in the third quarter between both teams. This set the score at 17-14, with MSU still holding on to a narrow lead.
Things were fairly back and forth after that, until midway through the fourth quarter when pandemonium broke loose.
MSU would allow another touchdown from Austin after another scoreless drive to lose their lead via a score of 21-17. Things were looking bleak, and then things looked even bleaker.
On a Memphis punt return, the Bulldogs’ punt team sailed one over the head of the Tigers’ return unit. The kick was touched by the MSU coverage, the ball marker was thrown by the closest referee, and said referee signaled the play dead. The ball was then picked up by the aforementioned Austin and returned 94 yards to the end zone for another Memphis score, putting the tally at 28-17, Memphis’ lead. Every Bulldog fan in attendance disagreed with the call, and they made it known via a series of boos and screams. The referees were not having any of it, though, and the play stood without review. The score sat at 28-17, Memphis’ lead.
Sophomore quarterback Will Rogers and his offense put in a valiant effort to regain control of the game, scoring a touchdown as an answer to the madness. This would be followed by a 51-yard field goal via Memphis redshirt junior kicker Joe Doyle. The bulldogs would need a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion to send the game into overtime.
Their prayers were almost answered, however, when Rogers found one of his favorite targets in junior wide receiver Makai Polk in the end zone on a 36-yard dime. Rogers was forced up out of the pocket on the conversion, though, and came up just one yard short. On the onside kicks that followed, Memphis would recover and kneel the clock out. The final score came to rest at 29-31, sealing a big win for Memphis.
“I think Memphis played more mature than we did ... they were more advanced than we were,” said Head Coach Mike Leach after the game.
When asked about how his team would prepare for their upcoming game against LSU next weekend, Leach had only one word, though;
We will see if the Bulldogs do just that next week against a formidable LSU, as the Tigers roll into Starkville to open up SEC play.