How we graded Mississippi State football, coach Zach Arnett in season opener

STARKVILLE — Report cards are meant to represent the final product, not one exam or one week of homework. For Mississippi State football, that’s a good thing. The first quarter report card wouldn’t have been pretty, and most of the second quarter wasn’t great on Saturday.

However, the Bulldogs walked away from their season opener against visiting Southeastern Louisiana with a 48-7 win – earning a strong sheet for first-year coach Zach Arnett and his staff.

Here’s how we graded various phases of MSU’s Week 1 performance.

Offense: B

Led by first-year MSU coordinator Kevin Barbay, the offense was sluggish to start. However, fans got a glimpse into what the offensive attack will look like as the team transitions from Mike Leach’s Air Raid.

The first play from scrimmage featured tight end Ryland Goede coming in motion before a handoff to running back Jo’Quavious Marks. A second-quarter touchdown pass to Creed Whittemore came after he was in motion, running between a tight end and the offensive line.

It was sloppy at times, but Barbay displayed what will make his offense difficult to predict once players are comfortable in the system.

Defense: A

Southeastern Louisiana had a 16-play, 79-yard touchdown drive midway through the second quarter to make it a 10-7 game. It left some fans at Davis Wade Stadium uneasy in their seats.

From there, led by sixth-year linebacker Nathaniel Watson, the Bulldogs took over. SLU finished with 208 total yards and just 83 from the ground game.

Special teams: A+

Mississippi State may have itself a kicker, and it’s not UCLA transfer Nick Barr-Mira. Freshman Kyle Ferrie got the nod and took advantage, highlighted by a pair of 40-plus-yard field goals in the first half.

The Bulldogs didn’t have many chances in the return game until the fourth quarter when linebacker John Lewis blocked a punt for Avery Sledge to scoop up and score.

Coaching: A

For just his second game as a head coach, the Bulldogs played a clean game for Arnett. Defensive coordinator Matt Brock got his unit in check after the long SLU scoring drive. Barbay showed off how he’ll use various players in his balanced attack.

The trio will be put to test next week when Arizona comes to Starkville.

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Overall: A

Anytime a team struggles early against an FCS foe, it’ll leave a poor taste. However, the Bulldogs had no issue pulling away when things were tight in the second quarter.

For a team in its first game after changing its coaching staff, it was a good win.

Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at or follow him on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, @skrajisnik3.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Grading Mississippi State football, coach Zach Arnett in season opener

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