Mississippi State football: Bulldogs, Costello fall flat as Razorbacks break Air Raid attack
On Thursday, I asked what were the realistic expectations for this Mississippi State offense after a historic performance against LSU. While I didn’t expect KJ Costello and the Bulldogs to light it up like they did in Tiger Stadium, I wasn’t expecting … well … this.
Not against Arkansas. Not against a team that had lost 20 straight SEC games. Not at home in Starkville as Mike Leach made his much-hyped debut as MSU coach in Davis Wade Stadium.
Yet Barry Odom, the much-maligned former head coach at Missouri and now defensive coordinator for the Razorbacks, solved the Pirate’s puzzle on Saturday. And it was pretty simple.
For much of the game, Arkansas dropped eight defenders into coverage and dared Costello to take the easy way out, as in a 7- or 8-yard gain. Instead, after being the hero last week in Baton Rouge, Costello fell for the Razorbacks’ trap. He threw 3 interceptions, including a 69-yard return for a touchdown on the first drive of the game to set the tone.
The Razorbacks secondary did something that Bo Pelini’s LSU defense couldn’t do and that was contain. Osirus Mitchell, who averaged 26.1 yards on seven catches last week, was held to 12.2 yards per catch on five receptions by the Hogs. Tyrell Shavers, who was good for 2 catches for 68 yards against the Bayou Bengals, was held to just 21 yards on three receptions against Arkansas. The list goes on and on.
Granted, it didn’t help that star running back Kylin Hill, a major receiving threat out of the backfield against LSU, left Saturday’s game after an early injury. But still, this MSU performance was still a letdown.
Yet the Bulldogs had a chance to win. State was set to get the ball back with just more than two minutes left when Jaden Walley, calling for a fair catch, muffed a punt. The Hogs immediately recovered and killed more clock.
All the blame can’t be assigned to the Bulldogs’ offense and special teams, though. Razorbacks wide receiver De’Vion Warren was an explosive playmaker, catching 4 passes for 100 yards including a 19-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter to give the Hogs a 14-7 lead.
Yet the detractors will definitely come down on Leach and Costello over the fact that they didn’t adjust. That is fair. It is almost as if Odom and the rest of the Arkansas staff had went back and studied film of Washington’s defense against Leach’s offense while he was coach at Washington State. It felt much like that. The Razorbacks were fine with giving up some yards only to recognize that, sooner or later, Costello would take a shot downfield. The Huskies rarely missed their opportunity against Leach’s offense and neither did the Razorbacks.
So now the question is, where do Leach and Co. go from here? This is a setback that, if you were to ask almost anyone, wasn’t expected at all. The road doesn’t get any easier from here either. Future SEC opponents will look at the film of this game, see what Odom and the Razorbacks dialed up, and put that into motion. It’s now up to Mississippi State to make the adjustment, not conference defenses.
It’s amazing how much difference a week makes.