Memphis Tigers (AAC) at Mississippi State Bulldogs (SEC)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 3, 2022, 6:30 PM CT
Radio: MSU Sports Network/Memphis Tigers Network
Location: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss.
Betting Line: Mississippi State -15, per DraftKings*
All-Time Series Record: This meeting marks the 46th game between the two programs dating back to 1952. Mississippi State holds a 34-11 record over the Tigers, including a 15-4 record in Starkville.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Leaches and Tigers and Bulldogs, oh my!
Last year, these two teams met for the first time in 10 years, and that game will go down in college football history. The Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 31-29 behind an unusual 94-yard punt return by Calvin Austin III, who had three touchdowns that day. The wild final six minutes of the game included onside kicks, penalties, reviews and one very arguably dead ball. Plus, Memphis banned cowbells from Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium.
This year, Mississippi State hosts Memphis and the one safe bet you can make about this game is that it will be beautiful, cowbell chaos in Starkville. This matchup will have it all, including dueling quarterbacks with Memphis’ Seth Henigan starting his sophomore campaign and Mississippi State’s Will Rogers looking to break more SEC records in his junior year. An experienced MSU team returns 16 starters on against one of the youngest rosters in the country with around 70 percent of the Tigers’ players not yet juniors or seniors Buckle up, buttercups!
The Tigers will start the season on the road for the first time since 2010, and what a road environment it will be Saturday. Memphis will need to acclimate quickly, a feat they have been preparing for with cowbell noise at practice prior to this game. New defensive coordinator Matt Barnes called it “annoying” but it’s clearly a necessary evil.
Offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey believes the noise has helped the offense focus on non-verbal communication, which will fall on sophomore quarterback Seth Henigan as he attempts to lead the Tigers offensive charge against a MSU defense that returns its leaders in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, quarterback hurries, interceptions and pass breakups. Plus, linebacker Jett Johnson, who ranks third in the nation at the position.
Henigan will need to avoid CB Emmanuel Forbes, the active FBS career leader in pick sixes and focus on the steady hands of receivers like Gabriel Rogers, Javon Ivory and Eddie Lewis. Watch for Northern Illinois running back transfer Jevyon Ducker to make an impact in the run game.
Defensively, Barnes is focusing on a burn-it-down approach where takeaways will be a major focus - the Tigers had just 15 last season, their fewest since 13 in 2010. Look for Johnson and Charlotte linebacker transfer Tyler Murray to be extra disruptive.
Mississippi State Preview
The Mike Leach Variety Hour kicks off its third, and what is likely to be its most successful season Saturday as the Bulldogs look to right the perceived wrong that was Memphis’ victory last year.
But how will they do that? On the back of Will Rogers, who became the first MSU quarterback to lead the SEC in passing yards per game last season (364.5). Rogers returns 72.2% of his receptions from last year at the hands of wide receivers Jaden Walley and Austin Williams, who are the SEC’s returning leaders in receptions for a first down from a year ago. Plus, Williams owns the lowest drop rate of any SEC wide receiver since 2019 (0.9 percent), which will come in handy against Barnes & Co.
Defensively, MSU returns 79.1 percent of its defensive snaps from 2021. 17 guys have been playing for the past two years under defensive coordinator Zach Arnett and his defense ranks third in total defense (352.3) against SEC teams in 2021.
Under Leach, the Bulldogs are 7-0 when scoring at least 30 points and 8-2 when scoring first. So Memphis will need to weaken MSU’s Will-power early if they want a fighting chance.
Look, nobody wants Ryan Silverfield to succeed more than those of us here at Underdog Dynasty. He needs this. We need this. But this game is going to get ugly and Memphis is just too young to survive a hostile Week One bout of this magnitude. I want to say the Tigers keep it close, but the likelihood Rogers & Co. run away with it is high.