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  • Writer's pictureTravis Tyler

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Two high-scoring teams clash as Mississippi State meets Texas Tech in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The game also marks the first time Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach will be facing Texas Tech since being fired by the Red Raiders in 2009. You can see the game at 6:45 PM ET on ESPN.

Mississippi State finished the season with a 7-5 record and even appeared in the CFP rankings at one time. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs could not get over the hump against the SEC teams they needed to beat. They finished behind Alabama, Ole Miss, and Arkansas in the SEC West after losing to all three schools. Mississippi State does have a few nice wins this year--defeating then-No. 12 Kentucky, then-No. 17 Auburn, and Texas A&M in College Station during conference play.

As most college football fans know, Mike Leach offenses love to throw the ball around and live and die with the passing game. This year was no different. Quarterback WIll Rogers was tied for the second-most passing yards in the FBS and threw 35 touchdown passes against just eight interceptions. He's had eight games with over 370 passing yards, including four over 400 yards. Transfer Makai Polk is the lead receiver.

The split in stats on the offensive side of the ball makes it very clear what the Bulldogs' offensive philosophy is and where they are strongest. While the team has over 4,000 yards of passing offense with 36 touchdowns, the running game is dead last in the country with 737 yards (63.9 ypg).

Texas Tech finished its 2021 season with a 6-6 record in the Big 12. It was a difficult year for the Red Raiders as they fired head coach Matt Wells partway through the season and were led by offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie after that point.

Texas Tech has played three quarterbacks this season, and none of them have really emerged. Going into the season, the thought was that the position would be solved with Tyler Shough transferring from Oregon. However, Shough has dealt with a broken collarbone, opening the position once again. Henry Colombi and Donovan Smith have been sharing the role in his absence.

The Red Raiders are also a team that loves to throw the ball but have a good enough running game to mix it up on offense. Texas Tech averages 150.7 rushing yards per game and uses three running backs: SaRodrick Thompson, Tahu Brooks, and Xavier White. Meanwhile, the passing game will be without top receiver Erik Enzukanma, meaning that Kaylon Keiger and Travis Koontz will need to help out whichever quarterback draws the start.

In a shootout like this, whichever defense plays best usually comes out on top. Texas Tech's running game can help it slow down the Mississippi state offense by keeping it off the field. However, Mississippi State is pretty good at stopping the run and Tech could fall behind quickly due to its suspect defense that gives up yardage and points in bunches.

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