Mississippi State forces 4 turnovers to roll No. 17 Texas A&M

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STARKVILLE, Miss. — Offensive opportunities were there for the taking by No. 17 Texas A&M. Mississippi State’s defense was also there to deny the Aggies at almost every turn.

The Bulldogs forced A&M into four turnovers, including three inside the red zone, and took advantage in a 42-24 victory on Saturday.

Decamerion Richardson scooped up Emmanuel Forbes’ critical third-quarter field goal block and returned it 50 yards for the touchdown to give the Bulldogs a 21-3 lead. The Aggies (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) got no closer than 11 as MSU’s defense denied A&M inside the 20 all game long with big plays.

“We’ve been practicing all week and when I got my chance, I just took advantage of it and blocked it,” Forbes said. “It was a real big momentum change. The offense had just got a turnover and we had to pick them up and we did that.

“I saw (Richardson) pick it up and I just wanted to go have fun with him in the end zone. I’d do anything to help my brother out.”

The first takeaway came early in the second quarter when Devon Achane fumbled on the 6. MSU responded with a 94-yard, 11-play drive ending with Will Rogers‘ 5-yard touchdown pass to Rufus Harvey.

Leading 14-0 just before halftime, the Bulldogs’ defense came through again as Nathaniel Watson forced Aggies quarterback Max Johnson to fumble in the red zone. Forbes’ blocked field goal in the third quarter put an exclamation point on the game for MSU and their first SEC West win.

“The biggest thing was we just played together. Early on we played too close to the vest and as we opened up, we had more success,” MSU coach Mike Leach said. “They had a tough time teeing off on one thing. A&M is tough.

“They have some really good players and some of the top recruits in the country. The biggest thing is doing your job and I thought we were.”

The Bulldogs (4-1, 1-1) had another efficient day offensively with 473 yards, 329 of those from Rogers on 31-of-45 passing with three touchdowns. Rara Thomas had five catches for 134 yards and a score and MSU rushed for 144 yards on 24 carries.

Meanwhile, the Aggies were frustrated on offense. Johnson was 18 of 25 passing for 201 yards and a touchdown before leaving in the fourth quarter with a hand injury. MSU sacked Johnson four times and posted six tackles for loss, led by 1.5 sacks by backup linebacker JP Purvis.

“Mississippi State played a good football game and is deserving to win,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We had critical errors in all three phases. We didn’t play well enough. We had opportunities to make it, but we didn’t get off the field on defense, we didn’t hit those red zone chances on offense and had the blocked kick. We have to clean up those mistakes and get better.”

Forbes then made two interceptions late in the fourth quarter and capped the game with a 33-yard pick-six. Fellow cornerback Richardson had nine tackles to lead MSU and got his touchdown on the blocked kick.

The win for Leach moved him to 9-4 lifetime over the Aggies between Texas Tech and MSU. The Bulldogs have won five of the last seven in the series and Leach now has six wins over ranked opponents in his three years in Starkville, moving above .500 at MSU overall for the first time since arriving in 2020.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Texas A&M is likely out of the rankings with a second loss. Mississippi State could be close to getting in.

THE TAKEAWAY

Texas A&M continues a lackluster start to the year, which has included a home loss to Appalachian State and now on the road to the Bulldogs. Jimbo Fisher’s offense has taken a lot of the criticism early, and Saturday is likely to spark more as the Aggies struggled again.

Mississippi State was on the verge of the Top 25 when the Bulldogs went to Baton Rouge against LSU but missed a chance for the win. After consecutive wins including a victory over the ranked Aggies, MSU is once again a team to watch in a crowded SEC West.

UP NEXT

Texas A&M visits No. 2 Alabama on Saturday.

Mississippi State hosts No. 20 Arkansas on Saturday.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
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DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.