Mike Leach: What the Doctor Ordered for Mississippi State- Johnny Crane
When you go to a pet store, you see everything, varying from squeaky toys to newfound pet recipes that will make your comrade livelier than ever before.
Enter the feisty and drooling Mississippi State Bulldogs, eager to be able to keep up and make noise in the hostile environment of the SEC and, in particular, the SEC West.
It’s a runner. A big-time runner. Dating back to 2016, the Bulldogs averaged over 200 rushing yards per game and never ranked lower than 23rd in the FBS during that span (2016). The team’s average of 27 touchdowns per season rushing was also respectable. The team was built as a ground-and-pound-first team, with the passing seen as a support role on its best day and an afterthought on its worst.
Like humans, dogs become weary of their diet. Age catches up and eventually diets have to change for the greater good.
Mississippi State, dating back to the latter years of Dan Mullen and the two years under Jon Moorhead, was falling behind the times. In a deep SEC West, the best Mississippi State could finish in the four-year span was fourth. The most wins in a single season in that span was nine (2017).
Having a proficient presence in the air has become more important as the game transitions into a quicker and more explosive pace. For teams with championship aspirations, this is becoming more and more of the case.
For teams in the SEC, it is becoming a necessity to adapt. In addition to the now-crowned National Champion LSU Tigers, the field is riddled with teams to jump over, including Alabama, Florida (who returns QB Kyle Trask), Georgia (who brings in Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman), Auburn (who brings back Bo Nix) and A&M (who brings back Kellen Mond).
For the Bulldog, a new diet is needed, and the secret ingredient to that diet is Mike Leach. Leach comes from the Washington State Cougars, a program he coached for eight years and a program he rebuilt from the ground up. Before Leach took over at Washington State, the Cougars were 9-40 in the four years prior to his hire. But under Leach, the Cougars went to six bowl games, won two of them, and achieved four winning seasons. Leach finished 55-47 with the Cougars.
Leach brings a completely different philosophy to Mississippi State. Leach’s offenses at Washington State relied on a heavy dosage of passing and little rushing, with the latter being ranked consistently as a bottom-10 unit. His air raid style, dating back to 2016, ranked near the top of the FBS in terms of passing yards per game, passing touchdowns and passing attempts. In fact, over the past four years, the Cougars have ranked first in passing attempts, averaging 691 attempts per season. In that same span Mississippi State averaged 350.5 attempts per season, with the ratio being almost 2:1 when comparing the two programs. For a program looking to keep up with the times and the rest of the conference, bringing in someone who crafted Luke Falk, Gardner Minshew and Anthony Gordon into never-ended throwing machines can help bring the offense a more modern look. A similarity showing the feasibility in going this direction can be seen within the SEC West in LSU that, under passing game coordinator Joe Brady and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, completely revamped an offense not known for its passing attack and turned it into the bane of everyone who had to face it.
For Mississippi State, the Bulldog needs a diet change. While the diet does not have to go Paleolithic, (1,000 yard rusher Kylin Hill is returning for his senior season), it needs a jolt of life and personality that can take it to the next step.
For Mississippi State, Mike Leach brings a heightened personality that resonates with players and the media alike. This personality, varying from hilarious to downright chest-hurting in regard to humor, gives Mississippi State a fresh look. A new look. A look that can bring Mississippi State a bright outlook and future on and off the field.
This new philosophy, diet and coach is just what the veterinarian ordered for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Missouri Football: Needing a Spark- Sean Clark
Missouri’s time in the SEC since joining the conference in 2012 has been a bumpy ride. After a rough debut season with a 5-7 record, Missouri would elevate themselves to the top of the SEC East, winning the division in 2013 and 2014, and winning their bowl games over Oklahoma State and Minnesota in the Cotton and Citrus bowl games respectively. After attaining losing records the following two seasons, Missouri would have two more bowl appearances led by future Denver Broncos starting quarterback Drew Lock. While they lost both, they were respectable at 7-6 and 8-5. This past season, they were led by transfer quarterback from Clemson Kelly Bryant, and went 6-6. It was a rough season that included a bowl ban due to academic fraud, an opening loss to Wyoming and a five-game losing streak from mid-October to mid-November.
As far as coaching goes, Missouri was led by Gary Pinkel from 2001-2015, who achieved a record of 118-73, won the Cotton Bowl in 2007 and 2013 while winning 12 games those seasons, and finished with a 6-4 bowl record. Then in 2016, they promoted defensive coordinator Barry Odom to head coach and he coached for them for four seasons with a final record of 25-25 and 0-2 in bowl games. After a disappointing 2019 season, Odom was fired and replaced with Appalachian State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz.
In his one season as Appalachian State head coach, he led them to a 13-1 record, a Sun Belt championship, a 31-17 New Orleans Bowl victory over UAB, and a final AP Poll ranking of 19. Under Drinkwitz, the Mountaineers were the eighth-best scoring offense in college football. Before his one season as the Mountaineers head coach, he was the offensive coordinator of NC State from 2016-18. Under his direction, the Wolfpack offense was efficient with quarterback Ryan Finley throwing over 3000 yards each season and NC State achieved records of 7-6, 9-4 and 9-4.
Drinkwitz is now the head coach of Missouri and this should be promising. Under his direction, he made NC State an efficient offensive team and in his one year at Appalachian State, he led them to tremendous success. Missouri was once an offensive juggernaut. In 2007, Missouri was fifth in total offense and in 2008, they were eighth, just like Appalachian State was this season.
Missouri besides a great 12-2 2013 season, has been decent at best in the SEC since they joined in 2012. In a league that is growing offensively, Missouri has the chance to become the offensive that they had in 2007 and 2008 led by quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. LSU and Alabama for years had ugly defensive battles. This season, they had a score in their matchup of 46-41. So Missouri will have the opportunity to grow offensively under Drinkwitz. Their quarterback next season is expected to be Taylor Powell, a QB that is known for his IG, accuracy on the run and great leadership skills.
That is a similar QB to what Ryan Finley was like when Drinkwitz coached him at NC State. Finley was an efficient QB who Drinkwitz helped develop after Finley transferred from Boise State. The offense wasn’t spectacular, but it was efficient and Finley in his senior year in 2018, Finley was sixth in passing yards and tenth in completion percentage. Finley is now in the NFL and started three games for the Cincinnati Bengals this season.
Missouri has been decent at best for years and need a spark to make them relevant again on the national stage. And Drinkwitz can be the electrician Missouri needs to light up the scoreboard once again.