2023 Reliaquest Bowl: Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrate Mike Leach’s memory as they faced the Illinois Fighting Illini
After winning eight games in 2022, including the Egg Bowl, it finally looked like Mississippi State football was back to where it had been when Dan Mullen left Starkville.
Mike Leach had turned the Bulldogs into a steady winner once more and State beat the Ole Miss Rebels. MSU wasn’t where it wanted to be, but strides had been taken to get the Bulldogs back into the upper end of the SEC’s middle class.
Unexpectedly and tragically, Mike Leach passed away in December 2022, shortly after the Egg Bowl.
That left the Mississippi State Bulldogs trying to figure out what to do next and how to move forward after the gut wrenching death of a college football icon whose impact on the sport can’t really be measured.
The Bulldogs elected to promote former defensive coordinator Zach Arnett. And in the final game with MSU’s staff as it had been assembled by Leach in place, the Bulldogs beat Bret Bielema and Illinois in bizarre fashion.
State won 19-10 on January 2, 2023 in Ryamond James Stadium located in Tampa, Florida. And it’s fitting that Leach’s last team would celebrate a victory in a football stadium that has a pirate ship built into it.
The Air Raid wasn’t exactly perfect for the Bulldogs, though its worth considering how difficult it must have been for MSU to focus on playing a football game just a couple weeks after a key mentor in the Bulldogs’ lives passed away.
State showed plenty of resilience in this game. It was bonkers and bizarre at times, but the Bulldogs won.
And Mike Leach would’ve had some incredible things to say following this win.