It's officially LSU game week and first up on the docket is Mike Leach and the "Air Raid" offensive approach he's bringing to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs figure to be a formidable first challenge for Bo Pelini and the 4-3 Tigers' defense.
But to get a little better understanding of what to expect Saturday afternoon, we reached out to Cowbell Corner publisher Joel Coleman to get his thoughts on the game.
1. With Mike Leach bringing in his Air Raid offense, talk a little about some of the receivers who should benefit from change in philosophy.
Well, the short answer is everyone. For every single receiver, opportunities just jumped. Leach is going to throw the football somewhere around 70 percent of the time and in the past at his other coaching stops, he has spread the football around. So it’s tough to zero in on just a guy or two to keep an eye on. Perhaps the best guess would be slot receiver Austin Williams. He’s a guy that hasn’t been a humongous part of the Mississippi State offense in the past, but Leach has praised him all throughout camp. Recently, Leach said Williams might not be their best receiver, but he’s the most consistent. And Leach has preached this preseason how much he loves consistency.
2. What about Kylin Hill? We know he returns as one of the SEC’s best running backs but how does his role expand/differ with an emphasis being focused on the passing attack?
When the new coaching staff came to Starkville earlier this year, one of the first things running backs coach Eric Mele told Hill was that he wasn’t going to lead the SEC in regular-season rushing yardage as he did a year ago, but that he might lead the league in all-purpose yardage. So Hill’s role is definitely about to change. It wouldn’t totally be a surprise if he’s the team leader in receptions before the season is done. He has been somewhat productive in the passing game before. And he used to line up as a slot receiver some in high school. So, in theory, Hill has the skill set to be effective as a receiver out of the backfield. He’s sure going to get chance after chance. True freshman running back Jo’Quavious Marks has also impressed in camp, so he’ll likely get opportunities as well.
3. LSU fans will want to know this, particularly with such turnover on offense. If you had to choose, what is the biggest weakness of the Mississippi State defense the Tigers can exploit?
Unquestionably, it’d have to be the Mississippi State secondary. It’s a youthful, inexperienced bunch. Outside of three guys (cornerback Martin Emerson and safeties Marcus Murphy and Fred Peters), it’s a bunch of unknown commodities. Even then, Emerson is only a sophomore and is still developing. Peters didn’t play a ton last season. Murphy is the closest thing to a sure thing, and even he doesn’t have an incredibly long track record after missing eight games of his sophomore season last year due to a suspension for a violation of team rules. Then, when you start talking about depth in the secondary, things even cloudier. In fact, depth is a bit of a concern for the Mississippi State defense as a whole. But overall, the secondary is probably the leading contender for weakest unit on the entire team, at least as we sit here today.
4. There’s been plenty of offseason buzz around KJ Costello but what are realistic expectations for him and this Mississippi State team as a whole this season?
Given how Mike Leach passing offenses have excelled in essentially every season of his 18-year head coaching career, there’s a great chance Costello is going to put up big numbers for the Bulldogs. Of the 50 most productive passing yardage seasons in FBS history, 11 have come from quarterbacks coached by Leach. In his last six years at Washington State, Leach’s passing offense led the nation in four of those years. So, barring injury, it seems like a certainty Costello and the entire Mississippi State offense will have at least some measure of success. It feels like what will make or break this Bulldog team is the defense. If it can be just average, Mississippi State might can find a way to win five or even six games in this unique 10-game season. If things don’t come together defensively, the Bulldogs might be looking at something more like 3-7.
5. Score Prediction for the game and why?
I believe Mississippi State will find at least a little bit of offensive success, but the defense will experience the growing pains of a new scheme (they’re now running a 3-3-5) and inexperience. It feels like LSU might have some feeling out of its own to do as well, but the Tigers are still just too talented. Considering everything, I’ll say LSU gets a 38-24 win