After an easy 45-0 win at home over USF last week, NC State football travels to Mississippi State Saturday night for its first true test of the season. This gives the Wolfpack a chance to knock off an SEC school, something it has done just once under head coach Dave Doeren.
The Bulldogs rallied in the fourth quarter last week to avoid a first week upset against Louisiana Tech, winning 35-34. 21 unanswered points in a 10 minute span gave Mississippi State its biggest fourth quarter comeback in school history.
This comeback in itself shows how explosive the Mississippi State “air-raid” offense can be under second-year head coach Mike Leach. This will be a good challenge for the Wolfpack defense, who held USF scoreless in its first game.
“It’s going to be a good football game,” said Doeren in his weekly presser. “I’m excited to go play against a team like them from the SEC, and to get to do it in their stadium with the fan base that they’ll have.”
Leading the Bulldogs offensively is quarterback Will Rogers, who is in his second year of being the starter in Starkville. He completed 83% of his passes on 47 attempts in game one for a career-high 370 yards and three touchdowns. Mississippi State fans are very high on Rogers, as someone who can thrive under Leach’s system.
In his freshman season he threw for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns. With a full preseason camp and game experience under his belt, Rogers hopes to be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC in 2021.
One of Rogers’ favorite targets is junior wide receiver Makai Polk. He had 10 receptions against Louisiana Tech. Other threats downfield for the Bulldogs are Jamire Calvin and Jaden Wadley, who each had over 60 yards receiving and a touchdown in the opener.
One thing that very nearly sent home Mississippi State with an embarrassing home opener loss was turnovers. Three fumbles and an interception gave the Bulldogs four turnovers in the game.
This will be something that the veteran NC State defense will take note of going into the primetime game. The Wolfpack forced three turnovers in its opening game. Forcing some early on will go a long way in taking the raucous Mississippi State crowd out of the game early.
Sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas and graduate defensive back Cyrus Fagan will look to lead the way for the Wolfpack defensively on the road. In the opener each player had an interception while Thomas had eight tackles to lead the team. Fagan was right behind him with seven tackles.
“I think [Fagan] reads the quarterback well,” Doeren said. “He breaks on it before the ball gets there a lot. He does it in practice too; he’s a ball hawk.”
Defensively for Mississippi State, it will be led by senior safety Fred Peters. He led the team with nine tackles against Louisiana Tech. Another name that the NC State offense will need to be wary of is linebacker Aaron Brule, he had seven tackles, two being for a loss in the opener.
The NC State offense was very balanced with the passing and running game against USF and will look to continue that against Mississippi State. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary threw for 232 yards on 17 completions with two touchdowns. On the other hand, the duo in the backfield of sophomore Zonovan Knight and junior Ricky Person combined for 271 yards on the ground.
This will be a chance for NC State to represent the ACC after it was embarrassed in nonconference play in week one. In matchups between the ACC and SEC during the opening weekend, the ACC was 0-3, with Miami, Clemson and Louisville taking losses against SEC schools.
“We’re playing another Power Five team and from a conference that gets a lot of notoriety,” Doeren said. “It’s an opportunity for us to continue to earn respect.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. from Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.