STARKVILLE – Mike Leach’s call for toughness last week found answers on the practice field.
Mississippi State came within a whisker of an upset season-opening loss to Louisiana Tech seven days ago.
In his postgame Leach, the Bulldogs’ second-year coach, said his players quit for stretches in the game, and he pledged to make things right in preparation for a stiff challenge from ACC foe North Carolina State.
The Bulldogs were tough in two phases early and eventually in three.
There was toughness on the opening kick returned 100 yards for a touchdown by Lideatrick Griffin.
There was good blocking across the play, and Griffin spurted through space created from a key block by linebacker Sherman Timbs.
It was Griffin’s 70-yard kick return that ignited the 20-point comeback against La. Tech.
There was toughness across the defense too.
The first quarter was played almost entirely on the Bulldogs’ side of the 50 due to no first downs and short punts.
The Wolfpack had seven first downs before the Bulldogs had their first.
Still the Bulldogs covered on the back end and kept the Wolfpack from establishing the run.
That was the NC State MO in Week 1 as the duo of Donovan Knight and Ricky Person each surpassed 100 yards.
The Bulldogs held the Wolfpack to 32 rushing yards on 25 attempts, an average gain of 1.3 yards.
MSU mixed its fronts and got pressure on NC State quarterback Devin Leary with four sacks and five pressures.
Finally the MSU offense came around. Will Rogers and Co. moved the sticks and at least let the defense get some rest.
Offense through much of the first half was collection of missed blocks and general confusion in the passing game.
State had a fourth-and-less-than-1 in plus territory when Rogers threw a short swing pass to running back Joquavious Marks who was quickly gobbled up short of the sticks. It was a play the Wolfpack was clearly expecting.
It was on the next series that Rogers began to string good throws together.
One came on a fourth-and-5 when Makai Polk twisted his body to adjust in the air to make a first-down catch on a sideline rout.
Two plays later Rogers hit Malik Heath on a fade from 21 yards out, and the Bulldogs stretched out to a 14-3 halftime lead.
Sometimes toughness comes in staying with your plan against a good defense and breaking through.
That’s called resiliency.
NC State was second in the ACC in pass defense efficiency last season and pitched a shutout against South Florida last week.
The Bulldogs also showed mental toughness with greater focus.
Penalties were still there, and that could be a season-long issue of an offensive line that isn’t very good, but there were no turnovers after four giveaways last week.
If you’re looking for style points look elsewhere.
There are things to clean up, but the Bulldogs are 2-0, and that’s as good as anybody could look in two weeks.