In the 2020 offseason, amidst a pandemic that caused the country to shut down, everyday Americans becoming shut-ins, and many losing their jobs, Mississippi State University was looking for a new head football coach. They found one in former Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach. Leach, the guru of the “Air Raid” passing offense, has been drawing up this offense in the dirt with twigs and bottle caps since he was an offensive coordinator at Kentucky under coach Hal Mumme. Week 1 saw the Bulldogs roll into Baton Rouge and beat the defending national champion LSU Tigers 44-34. But since that first game, the Air Raid sirens have gone silent in Starkville.
A Record-Setting Performance in Week 1.
The LSU Tigers lost 14 players from their 2019 National Championship Team to the NFL Draft (tied for the most by any school). They also had some defections in the form of transfers and opt-outs. A notable opt-out was WR JaMarr Chase, the 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner and #1 returning receiver for the Tigers. So, LSU was a totally different team, on both sides of the ball, from the one that hoisted the trophy at the national championship game.
LSU was also installing a new defensive coordinator in Bo Pelini and his 4-3 scheme. Young and inexperienced players were pressed into service earlier than expected.
Mississippi State was being led on the field by Stanford graduate transfer QB KJ Costello.
LSU chose to defend the Air Raid by playing man-on-man defense. Costello shredded “D.B.U.” for an SEC single-game record 623 yards and 5 TDs and 2 interceptions. Inexperience, along with limited practice time to learn a new defensive scheme and very poor tackling were the Tigers’ downfall in the 10 point loss.
“Whoo Pig Sooey!”
Week 2-The Razorbacks had not won a conference game since a 38-37 win over Ole Miss in 2017. 0-20 since. Costello did throw for over 300 yards and a touchdown in the game, but he threw three interceptions (including a 69-yard pick-six) in a 21-14 loss to the Hogs.
Costello: 6 TDs, 5 INTs over two games.
Deuces Were Not Wild
Week 3-The Bulldogs could only muster a safety against the Wildcats. 2 points, in a 24-2 loss. And, Costello threw four more interceptions, including yet another pick-six.
Costello: 6 TDs, 9 INTs over three games.
Week 4-Costello and QB Will Rogers were a combined 30 of 40 for 219 yards, one touchdown, and one INT. The Bulldogs rushed for -2 yards in a 28-14 loss to Texas A&M. Talk about one-dimensional.
Costello: 6 TDs, 10 INTs over four games.
Roll Tide! And Roll they Did
Week 5-The Bulldogs limped into Tuscaloosa on a three-game losing streak. They were carried out of Bryant-Denny Stadium after a 41-0 beat down. Costello completed just 4 passes on 11 attempts for, wait for it, 36 yards. Zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. Hey, at least he didn’t throw another pick. That dubious distinction went to Rogers. He threw 2 picks. Enough said.
The Air Raid Sirens Are Silent in Starkville
Prior to this season, the Air Raid had been the #1 passing offense in 4 of the last 6 years. Quarterbacks have flourished in this pass-happy system, such as Gardner Minshew at Washington State, Graham Harrell at Texas Tech, and Tim Couch at Kentucky.
After scoring those 44 points in week one, the Bulldogs have scored a combined 30 points in their four losses listed above.
Ironically, Mississippi State ranks #2 in the SEC in total defense and pass defense. They rank #3 in rush defense.
To add insult to injury, the team has suffered some defections. RB Kylin Hill has opted-out and is preparing for the NFL Draft. Hill was one of the best running backs in the SEC in 2019, rushing for 1350 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sophomore QB Garrett Schrader has entered the transfer portal.
Looking ahead on their schedule, the Bulldogs have games against two ranked opponents. They host #25 Auburn and they travel to #5 Georgia in back-to-back weeks later this month.
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