Week 1 was historic. What's realistic for MSU's Air Raid moving forward?
Somewhere deep in the bowels of LSU’s Tiger Stadium, KJ Costello must have found the switch on LSU’s defense that, much like in the popular EA Sports NCAA Football games, put them on the Rookie difficulty level. The Mississippi State quarterback put up a historic outing by throwing for 623 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Unless he can find that switch for every defense he faces, is putting up those kind of stats each game realistic for Mike Leach’s offense? Well, not really.
Oh, the Bulldogs are going to put up yards in bunches. That has been proven with Leach during his previous stops at Texas Tech and Washington State. As SDS’ Matt Hinton noted in his weekly review of SEC QBs, 8 of the 12 times a QB has thrown for 600+ yards this century, Leach was the head coach.
And it isn’t like LSU was shocked by what they were up against this past Saturday by not having game tape on this Air Raid offense. They knew, or should have known, that State would throw the ball at least 50 times, running back Kylin Hill would be utilized as a major threat in the passing game out of the backfield and that the big speedy receivers would be sent down the field and over the middle.
Yet the Tigers, with new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini in charge, never adjusted out of their man-to-man concept and failed to come close to stopping it.
It is almost impossible for the Bulldogs to keep up this pace, especially when looking at the schedule they face. Even this Saturday against Arkansas, Costello and Co. will face a defense that largely shut down a talented Georgia offense, albeit with shaky quarterback play. The next Saturday they face a Kentucky secondary that returns a lot of talent from the nation’s No. 2 passing defense last season.
And this goes without saying, but tough tests against Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, possibly the top 3 defenses in the conference, await. I can almost say for certain that the respective defensive coordinators for those programs are doubling up on game tape of what Utah and Washington did against Leach’s Cougars last season. In the lowest output of the 2019 season, the Utes held Cougs quarterback Anthony Gordon to just 252 passing yards and intercepted 2 passes. Against the Huskies and Chris Petersen, who had Leach’s number during their time battling for the Apple Cup, Gordon threw no touchdowns and 303 yards with 2 more interceptions.
Of course, those coaches had faced the Air Raid offense multiple times before. Unless you count Leach’s time as offensive coordinator at Kentucky in the late 1990s, this attack is new to the SEC.
So what is realistic for this offense?
Don’t expect any defense to totally slow down the Bulldogs. Last season, Leach’s Washington State team had 1 600-yard passing game and topped 500 yards passing 3 other times. They topped 400 yards 9 times. Twice, the Cougars had separate 4-game streaks of 400+ passing yards.
Even in a 10-game season, Costello has the opportunity to break Dak Prescott’s single-season school records for yards (3,793) and TDs (29) and, if that is accomplished, don’t be surprised if an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony follows. With the options he has, defenses will have to pick their poison, especially if major focus shifts to the defending of Hill and Osirus Mitchell, which would be understandable.
Averaging more than 500 yards of total offense, especially if some production from the running game comes along, is not a long shot nor is putting 30-plus points on the board. Leach has possibly never had this amount of talent at all positions on offense, not even with Gardner Minshew and the slew of receivers that helped Wazzu to a 11-2 record in 2018.
Another performance like the Bulldogs put up on Saturday is not out of the question, but life in the SEC, especially this season, is a rough-and-tumble experience. Still, this still has a chance to be one of the most explosive offenses that the SEC has seen.
Buckle up, State fans. It’s going to be a wild and fun experience.