Photo by MSU Athletics

By Robert Wilson

       Brandon High alumnus and Mississippi State senior quarterback Will Rogers said he practiced as hard as he has ever practiced in his career last week.

       It paid off.

       Rogers completed 30 of 48 passes for a career-high 487 yards – the third highest in school history and 20th best in SEC history – and one touchdown in MSU’s 37-30 loss Saturday night at South Carolina.

       Rogers moved into third place in career passing yards in SEC history, passing David Greene, Chris Leak and Peyton Manning. Rogers now has 11,668, and trails only Aaron Murray of Georgia (13,166 from 2010-2013) and Drew Lock of Missouri (12,193 from 2015-2018).

       With his one TD pass Saturday night, Rogers is now tied for fifth in career TD passes in SEC history with Tim Tebow and Leak with 88 TD passes. Murray had 121, Danny Weurffel of Florida had 114 from 1993-96), Lock 99 and Manning 89.

       KJ Costello passed for a school record 623 yards against LSU in 2020 and Dak Prescott passed for 508 against Arkansas in 2015.

       Rogers has had to deal with a lot since the end of the regular season last year. Rogers’ head coach, mentor and close friend Mike Leach passed away two and a half weeks after Rogers and Leach combined to give MSU a 24-22 victory over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl last Thanksgiving Day.

Leach, 61, passed away from complications after having a heart attack. He was a head coach for 21 seasons – the last three at MSU – and was National Coach of the Year twice and transformed the game with introduction of the Air Raid offense to college football, breaking tons of passing records.

Then, when MSU defensive coordinator Zach Arnett was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach, he hired Kevin Barbay as his new offensive coordinator. Leach ran the Air Raid, pass happy offense and Rogers blossomed in the offense for the past three seasons, so much so he set SEC records for single season completions and career completions and school records for career passing yards, career passing TDs, single season TDs and most 300-yard passing games and 200-yard passing games. Rogers fit Leach’s Air Raid offense perfectly, with his wisdom of the game, accuracy, and ability to find the open receiver. Barbay runs a more traditional type of balanced offense with the run and the pass and Rogers had to learn an entire new scheme and playbook.

And before Saturday’s performance, Rogers had completed 54 of 84 passes for 492 yards and five TDs, including completing only 11 of 28 passes for 103 yards in a 41-14 loss to LSU last week, numbers far less than his past three years when Leach was the coach.

“It starts with practice,” Rogers said. “You find out a lot about a person when things don’t go right. I practiced as hard as I ever practiced. Keep working at it.”

MSU wide receiver Tulu Griffin caught seven passes for a school-record 256 yards at South Carolina. He broke Jameon Lewis’ record of 220 yards against Rice in the Liberty Bowl in 2013.

Rogers was named the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Player of the Year in 2019. He passed for 3,572 yards and 38 TDs with only three interceptions under the direction of then head coach Tyler Peterson and offensive coordinator Wyatt Rogers, Will’s father. Rogers passed for 9,093 yards and 79 TD passes in his career at Brandon.