Has Will Rogers reached his peak or is there more to come?
Prior to this weekend’s schedule, there was a fair amountl of buzz about Will Rogers at Mississippi State. He had started the season well and was making things happen, with a 78% pass completion, 752 yards and 9 passing touchdowns.
My general interest has been the ACC quarterbacks in these first few weeks, however Will Rogers is someone who has also turned my head.
Are we looking at a quarterback who has come out of nowhere to be a real force in the SEC? Or was the hype just that, and he was going to come crashing back down to Earth?
Unfortunately for all viewers, apart from LSU of course, Rogers hit a bit of a brick wall at the weekend. It was his least effective performance of the season, and he just struggled to get going.
So, what was the cause? And how was he so effective in the first two games of the season?
Walking Over Memphis
Week 1 saw a standout performance from Will Rogers. He threw five touchdown passes for 452 yards in a convincing win over Memphis, with a pass completion of 77%, he was locked on and was dominating the game.
Everything that Rogers did against Memphis was simple, yet effective. He received the ball from the snap and was quickly releasing the ball to the nearest open receiver. He looked comfortable targeting the running back coming out of the backfield but was equally effective looking at receivers further down field. His longest reception was just 35 yards, but he was quick with everything he did and didn’t hang around in the pocket for too long.
The slight hiccup he had against Memphis was his interception. Although this was minor in a game that he dominated, the way he turned the ball over was slightly disappointing – He was quick from the snap, but the slight misread on the pass allowed the ball to get picked off by the defender for an easy interception. It didn’t make too much of a difference to the score, or the way he played, but something that would need to be highlighted due to the nature of his game.
As simple as it sounds, Rogers targeted the nearest opening receiver and built-up significant yardage by having receivers that are willing to create space for themselves and make good yardage after the catch. The game plan worked perfectly for Mississippi State and they ran out comfortable winners.
Dominant in Arizona
Despite falling behind to Arizona in Week 2, Mississippi State showed determination and grit to turn the deficit around before going ahead and dominating the game.
After a slow start from Rogers, he started to turn it on towards the end of the first quarter, sticking to the game plan of Week 1 and finding the nearest open receiver and releasing the ball quickly; it was all quick game. His first touchdown pass of the day to Caleb Ducking was quick, effective and showed remarkable accuracy to put it perfectly over the defender’s head and into the arms of the receiver.
Despite being 6 for 7 heading into the second quarter, an uncharacteristic hesitation saw Rogers throw his only interception of the game. His lack of open options saw him hesitate with his throw before being slightly inaccurate and throwing to the defender – This was a similar problem to Week 1 and his interception against Memphis. Although it was his only mistake, there were similar characteristics to his interception the week before.
Another thing that stood out from Week 1 to Week 2 was his conversion within the 10 yard line of the endzone. He made five thrown attempts across two weeks, all with similar outcomes. They were mainly batted away by the defenders, but none of them really looked like making an impact on the score.
He was effective, however, in turning the game in the favour of Mississippi State. He threw 302 yards, 4 passing touchdowns and had a pass completion of 79%. Rogers dominated more in the second half of the game, throwing three touchdowns and allowing Mississippi State to run away with the game. His effectiveness in the short passing game, and quickly moving the ball allowed for this to happen, and Arizona struggled where they looked so effective in the first half.
With the domination of Memphis and Arizona in the first two weeks of the season, alongside some good stat numbers for Rogers, there seemed to be a bit of hype over what he could achieve in Tiger Stadium, Louisiana. LSU had looked shaky against Florida State in Week 1, before a big win in Week 2, so anything could have happened in their Week 3 contest.
All eyes were on an intriguing battle between Rogers and Jayden Daniels. Daniels had started off the season well, picking up 114 rushing yards in Week 1, as well as 209 passing yards and a decent 73% pass completion. He followed this up with three passing touchdowns, in a 10 of 11, 137 yard dominating performance against Southern University.
These two quarterbacks couldn’t be any more different. Daniels is an agile, mobile quarterback who could easily pick up 100 rushing yards in a game, whilst Rogers is more of a pocket quarterback who will target quick passes and work his way down the field 8 10 yards at a time.
LSU’s game plan was evident from the beginning – Limit Rogers’ options in the short pass game and try to make him look longer.
This was clear on a few occasions, especially in short yardage situations. There was a line of defenders around the down marker so limited space for the Bulldogs’ offense to work which caused Rogers to look deeper into the backfield for a play or rely on a virtually non-existent running game.
The Tiger’s tactics led to four sacks and the quick passing game wasn’t allowed to get going. That time spent in the pocket limited the options and the Mississippi offense looked far less threatening when this was the case.
The latter stages of the game had a different feel about it. Rogers was allowed a bit more space to make his quick passes, however the accuracy on passes dramatically decreased. A couple of easy passes in their first drive were missed after LSU went a touchdown up in the fourth and to top off a miserable time in Death Valley, an interception when looking further down the field summed up his evening perfectly.
This was a tough performance against an LSU defense that was expecting the way he played.
So was the hype, just hype?
This is a difficult one to determine. The first opposition he had that adjusted their gameplan to stop him from doing what he does best, he struggled to really make a real impact on the game. However, he was hugely impressive in the first couple of weeks of the season and that can’t go unnoticed.
A game at home to Bowling Green is exactly what he needs after this performance and there is an opportunity to go back to what he does best but may also help him adapt as a quarterback to work both the short passing game and the longer passing game. If he can do this as the season progresses, then he will become a much bigger threat in tough games. He isn’t the most agile, as shown by his rushing stats, so he will rely on his offensive line to provide protection when he’s in the pocket, but he has shown his ability to get out of tight spaces and still make decent plays.
Will Rogers may not be a standout quarterback compared to others that I have covered, but there’s a level of potential there that’s intriguing.
The Bowling Green game will be a nice way to bounce back after that LSU defeat, but tough games against Texas A&M, Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama to follow will really test his ability as a quarterback.
We could see remarkably improved performances in those games but my gut feeling is that he will struggle to build on the momentum gained in the first two weeks of the season.
By Jake Tweedie – Follow Jake on Twitter @AccukAnalysis1