Mike Leach has made a career out of punching above his weight class. Leach turned Texas Tech into a consistent winner in the Big 12, playing in the shadows of Oklahoma and Texas.
By Matt Zemek
Leach turned Washington State into a successful program, playing in the shadows of Oregon, Stanford, USC, and Washington. Now he has come to the SEC to try to win at Mississippi State, in the shadows of Alabama, Auburn, and this Saturday’s Week 1 opponent, the defending national champion LSU Tigers. These Tigers aren’t the 2019 national champions, but they still have a lot of good players and will be very tough to beat. Let’s look at what Leach can do to create a stir in the first SEC game of the year, a moment we have all waited for.
1 – Throw the kitchen sink
This being the first college football game played in a pandemic for both teams, Mississippi State’s talent gap relative to LSU could be minimized by the lack of preparation on both sides. It’s not as though Mississippi State wanted less preparation time, but LSU getting less preparation time might actually create a more competitive environment in Week 1. The Tigers might not be as polished as they would have been under a normal set of circumstances.
Mike Leach, if he wants to win this game, can’t be cautious. His team might not have had a normal offseason in which to fully install the Air Raid and its passing concepts, but he can’t beat LSU by playing it safe. He has to hope that LSU will be rusty and sluggish, and that a go-for-broke offense can fool the Tigers and generate huge plays.
This leads into the next big key for MSU:
2 – Make this a deep-passing contest
Mississippi State should be happy to turn this game into a test of which quarterback can throw a better deep ball. It’s not that Myles Brennan isn’t talented; he is. However, LSU’s quarterback has the unenviable distinction of having to follow Joe Burrow, who just produced one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history. Mississippi State needs to make Brennan earn this game by throwing deep. Keep in mind that LSU’s best receiver, Ja’Marr Chase, opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for next spring’s NFL draft. The LSU passing game isn’t nearly as strong as it was in 2019. MSU should try to force Brennan to beat the Bulldogs down the field. Meanwhile, MSU quarterback K.J. Costello is a seasoned veteran with multiple years under his belt at Stanford. If this becomes a Costello-Brennan duel, that’s as good as the Bulldogs can hope for. Load up the tackle box on defense and dare Brennan to go vertical. Meanwhile, take deep shots with Costello and hope enough of them hit.
3 – Bo Pelini insider knowledge
Mike Leach and Bo Pelini coached against each other when Leach was at Texas Tech and Pelini was at both Nebraska and Oklahoma in the Big 12 over a decade ago. Leach obviously knows some of the things Pelini likes to do; he has to use that knowledge to win the chess match on Saturday.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 2:30 PM CT (3:30 PM ET). Watch on the CBS Network.