Mississippi State football needs a rebound game, and Mike Leach has some offensive issues that need to be resolved.
Mike Leach and the Mississippi State football team had a surprising start to the 2020 Football season. The Bulldogs shocked the world and broke records as they upset LSU in Death Valley. What would come next was every Bulldog’s worst nightmare.
The Bulldogs suffered three straight defeats as the Air Raid Offense struggled to put up points against Arkansas, Kentucky, and Texas A&M. It is hard to believe that an offense that scored 44 points in week 1 of the SEC season has scored only 21 points in three straight games.
This was not the Air Raid that most fans expected. The passing attempts, completions, and yards are up, but the points have not followed. The Bulldog offense has thrown more interceptions than passing touchdowns and again, this was not expected in a Mike Leach Air Raid Offense. The offensive line also has struggled to provide any protection or open many running lanes.
There is some unexpected great news to report as Zach Arnett’s 3-3-5 Defense has kept every game winnable for the Bulldogs as they are ranked #1 in the SEC in total defense. I would bet my paycheck that not a single MSU fan expected the Bulldog defense to outshine the Bulldog offense.
The defense has performed well as a group with returning lettermen like Errol Thompson, Aaron Brule, Kobie Jones, Marquis Spencer, Jaden Crumedy, Nathan Pickering, Martin Emerson, and Marcus Murphy making the expected plays.
Newcomers like Tyrus Wheat and Emmanuel Forbes have already made an impact. Young safeties Shawn Preston and Londyn Craft, a former walk-on now starting, have played with poise. The defense is primed and ready to help Mississippi State win some games.
The Bulldogs enter the bye week with Alabama looming. The Crimson Tide is not a team you want to face while having offensive woes. Will the Tide defense follow suit and rush three and drop eight as other teams have done to stymie the Bulldog offense?
I am hoping that we will see a more efficient and somewhat balanced Bulldog offense when the Bulldogs travel to Tuscaloosa in Mike Leach’s first tilt with Nick Saban as the Bulldog Head Coach. Here are some key points we need to see from the Mississippi offense as they prepare to face Alabama after the Bye week.
Offensive Key Point 1: Quarterback Play
Mike Leach has a decision to make regarding his quarterbacks. KJ Costello came to Mississippi State as a possible first-round NFL prospect. He looked the part throwing for 623 yards and 5 touchdowns in week 1.
It is what followed next that has Bulldog fans scratching their heads in disappointment. Costello has been inefficient and turnover-prone in the Bulldogs three-game losing streak. This is not what Mike Leach expects from the quarterback position.
True freshman, Will Rogers relieved Costello against Texas A&M and lead the Bulldog offense to its only offensive points of the game. His performance has fans calling for Leach to make the switch and roll with the freshman for the rest of the season.
While I would love to see Rogers make his first start, is it wise to throw him out there against Alabama? If Costello struggles, which he has the last three games, odds say Rogers will see some playing time.
Leach also has little-used backup QB Jaylen Mayden on the bench. Perhaps he could be a spark. The key point here is to start Rogers against Alabama and see how he handles the pressure because he is your quarterback of the future.
Offensive Key Point 2: Offensive Line Execution
The Offensive Line is the most important part of your offense. If your line struggles, then your offense will struggle. To say the Mississippi State Offensive Line has struggled is not an understatement.
The Bulldog line was supposed to be a position of strength even after losing Stuart Reese to a transfer to Florida. The Bulldogs still returned three seniors (Sharp, Eliand, and Parker) with a wealth of experience and plenty of talented young lineman (Johnson and Cross) ready to get their first significant playing time.
The Question to ask here is, does the scheme fit the players? The Offensive Line technique that Leach wants to employ is not what any of these players were recruited to play. The wide splits and constant pass blocking invite kamikaze pass rushers to attack with reckless abandon.
The one positive is that against Texas A&M, the blocking looked better after Rogers relieved Costello. The key point here is to find the right cohesive unit and let your linemen attack first during the course of a game.
Offensive Key Point 3: The Running Game
Mississippi State is known for its ball-control offense and running attack. That philosophy is thrown out of the dog house under Mike Leach. When Leach was hired, the question was would the Air Raid succeed in the SEC.
Some pundits gave their opinion and not all were positive. Mike Leach likes to throw it and that is what he has been doing so far this season. That philosophy has led to a disappointing start to the season. I as many of you feel that you have to run the ball to win in the SEC.
Mississippi State can throw the ball but defenses are all but inviting Leach to run the ball. Leach has not obliged his opponents much this season. There is also the absence of ALL-SEC Running Back Kylin Hill.
Leach has not said when he expects Hill to return as he is out indefinitely with personal issues. The running game has been lead by True Freshmen Jo’Quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson who have played well.
Lee Witherspoon and Kareem Walker round out the remaining depth chart, but it is the absence of Hill that hurts this offense the most. Hill is a game-changer in the passing and running game. The Bulldogs will have to get by without him unless his status changes heading into game week. Regardless of who is in the backfield,
Leach will have to start running the ball more to make the defense honest and open up consistent passing lanes for his quarterback. The key point here is to run the ball to make defenses pay for rushing three.
Wrap It Up
The Bye Week will be used to rest, recover, watch football, and prepare for next week.
Will the key points I made lead to another Bulldog upset as in week one?
Can the defense keep Mississippi State in the game if the offense struggles against Alabama?
Will Leach hand the keys over to Rogers?
Will the offensive line be able to protect and open holes in the run game, when those plays are called?
Will Kylin Hill be back in a Bulldog uniform to help the Bulldog offense.
Will Leach run the ball more regardless of who is in the backfield?
We will find out those answers next Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
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