After firing Joe Moorhead, it didn’t take long for the Mississippi State Bulldogs to hire their new head ball coach. Last Friday, Mike Leach was named the 34th head coach in the history of the football program. The deal will pay Leach $20 million over the next four years, as well as bonus incentives for postseason achievements.
Leach’s hiring brings high expectations, as he has had success in two Power 5 football programs. He has also been named national Coach of the Year on two occasions. He takes the job at Mississippi State after spending eight seasons as the head coach for the Washington State Cougars, where he posted an impressive 55-47 record. It was at Washington State where Leach groomed Jacksonville Jaguars rookie sensation, Gardner Minshew. Minshew, a graduate transfer from East Carolina, experienced a record season under the tutelage of Leach and his Air Raid offense. Prior to his time at Washington State, Leach had the Texas Tech football program booming with an 84-43 record.
So why are expectations sky-high in Starksville? Simple. Leach was able to turn two football programs around with very little resources at his disposal, something Mississippi State will have no issues with providing their new head coach.
Upon entering his new role, Leach will be losing key players from the Bulldogs roster to the NFL Draft this coming April. Cornerback Cameron Dantzler, safety Brian Cole II, interior offensive linemen Darryl Williams, offensive tackle Tyre Phillips, and linebacker William Gay, Jr. headline this list. Other names worth mentioning are wide receiver Stephen Guidry and tight end Farrod Green, who could have flourished as pass-catchers in Leach’s passing attack.
The offensive players at Mississippi State should be ecstatic with the hiring of Leach, as he brings the Air Raid offense with him. The Air Raid is a scheme designed to put up explosive numbers and light up the scoreboard. Leach learned the Air Raid offense when he worked under Hal Mumme at Valdosta State. He has put his own personal stamp on the offensive system, and it’s being adopted by other coaches around college football and the NFL, such as Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury.
The beauty of the Air Raid system is that you don’t need a roster full of five-star prospects in order for it to be successful. According to Wikipedia, “the system is designed out of a shotgun formation with four wide receivers and one running back. The formations are a variation of the run and shoot offense with two outside receivers and two inside slot receivers. The offense also uses trips formations featuring three wide receivers on one side of the field and a lone single receiver on the other side.”
This offensive strategy, which has been called “basketball on grass”, is a pass-heavy scheme designed to create mind-blowing offensive production. So why should Mississippi State offensive players be excited to have this implemented next year? It will enhance their productivity and improve their 2021 NFL Draft stock.
On Wednesday, Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill announced that he will be returning to Starksville for the 2020 season. This announcement just comes a few weeks after Hill publicly announced his intentions to enter the draft. There is no doubt that the hiring of Leach played a role in Hill’s change of heart. Although Leach isn’t known to utilize the running game much, this is a smart decision from Hill.
In 2019, Washington State running back Max Borghi ran the ball 127 times for 817 yards and 11 touchdowns. Even more impressive, Borghi hauled in 86 catches for 597 yards and five touchdowns. All in all, Borghi produced 1,414 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns. The scary part is that Kylin Hill is far more talented than Borghi. Hill is coming off a sensational season in his own right, as he rushed for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, one area he struggled in was in the passing game, as he only caught 18 passes for 180 yards. Under Leach, Hill will develop into a more complete running back and improve his draft status.
Hill is not the only player that should be excited about the new head coach. Leach has also proven to be a “quarterback whisperer”. We all know the story of how he took graduate transfer Minshew and made him a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.
Minshew is far from Leach’s only success story when it comes to quarterbacks. Just this season, he took Anthony Gordon from a complete unknown to a player who put up 5,579 passing yards and 48 touchdowns. Now, Gordon is a likely mid-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. With that said, there is plenty of reason to expect the Mississippi State quarterback to put up extraordinary numbers, whether it’s Will Rogers or Garrett Shrader.
It’s no secret, Mississippi State won’t be able to land the big-name recruits like Alabama, LSU or Florida can in the SEC. That is what makes the Leach hire a beautiful thing. His offense doesn’t require top-notch players, and it will be a headache for the SEC defenses. It will take some time for Leach to install the offense to its optimal level and get the players he covets. Leach admits to himself, “we should be able to install it pretty fast and it is not going to be perfect right away. The more people the defense has to keep up with over a wide area, the bigger our chances are.’’
When Leach gets the offense where he wants it to be, the Bulldogs will be fun to watch, and Mississippi State fans certainly will be calling for “more cowbell”.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 10, 2020