Cloud: MSU Air Raid offense needs ground support

Mississippi State University’s Head Coach Mike Leach leads his Bulldogs during Saturday’s loss against the University of Kentucky. 

As the ball flew through the air and over the University of Kentucky punter, it bounced mockingly towards the end zone before the punter put the laces through the ball and out the back of the end zone. 

Those two points were the only points MSU scored in a 24-2 defeat in Lexington. A game where six interceptions were thrown by a stalling Air Raid offense, 157 yards were given up by a defense who consistently made stops to keep the Bulldogs in the football game. Head Coach Mike Leach said his offense just did not get the job done. 

"We didn't play together at all," Leach said. "I think you can say in all things. We really have to find a way to clean that up. Our receivers could not consistently catch the ball; we turned the ball over."

It seemed like the same Mississippi State University, same result but different coach for MSU. The last venture into Lexington, MSU scored a minuscule 7 points in a game similar to Saturday night's, where the Bulldogs defense kept them in the game and gave the offense ample opportunities to win a football game. 

MSU should not jump the gun and shoot this Air Raid idea down before it truly takes off. That being said, two points is not good enough to win in the SEC. It is not good enough to win the Egg Bowl, and it is not good enough for a team that has Kylin Hill, KJ Costello and Osirus Mitchell at its disposal. 

For Head Coach Mike Leach, the game is an anomaly. The fewest points a Mike Leach-led team had scored prior to Saturday night was three in 2017. It is abysmal when you gain 297 yards and have 0 points to show for it.

Leach said in the post-game press conference they had to start coaching better. Accountability is often the first place to start when you are a football team and looking to improve on your weaknesses. 

Wide receiver Austin Williams, a junior from Ocean Springs, said the defense really did give the offense chances to win the game, and as a result, they deserve praise for their performance.

"We always have the mindset of driving down and scoring, be on attack mode," Williams said. "I would like to shout out the defense for having a good game; they definitely kept us in it."

Wasted opportunities were the story of the game and so was a wasted defensive performance. When an Air Raid does not hit its assigned target, it is a failure. This Kentucky game was a failure; the Arkansas game was a failure. 

Maybe attributing the word 'failure' to an MSU which has historically always been a run-heavy team, a team that has quarterbacks who are not afraid to run the football yet find themselves in an offense that is not that, is a bit harsh. If the offense can find its rhythm again, it would greatly alter the trajectory of the season. 

MSU had a limited spring and it is really showing as KJ Costello looks lost at times in the backfield, seemingly unaware of the line of scrimmage and the two more yards he needed to make a crucial first down. He was also blind to defenders, as evidenced by his four interceptions. 

You would think a coach would be able to recognize the players they have and adjust an offensive scheme to help them or to utilize their talent in the area of attack. Swinging the sword should not only mean MSU carves up a defense with a pass-heavy offense but also that it is not afraid to run the damn ball with Kylin Hill. 

In a Texas A&M game in 2018, there was the meme of "always run, never pass." Right now it is "always pass, never run," even if running would greatly open up the passing attack. In war, a country uses air superiority to control the battlefield, but that means nothing if you also do not establish a solid ground attack with tanks and infantrymen. 

MSU would be better off taking the same approach. Maybe run the ball every other play, and keep the defense honest. Run the play action pass to help out the wide receivers, and attack relentlessly, like Mike Leach has talked about doing since he got here. 

In 2018, I ran a column about how more patience was needed with a sputtering Joe Moorhead offense. I still stand by those words. However, I think in this case, we should be holding MSU accountable to its shortcomings. Maybe we do expect too much out of an MSU team that beat LSU. With that being said, MSU has the talent to win ball games; it has the defense to win ball games. 

After three games, there is a disappointment, a feeling that the MSU offense has underperformed, or on the flip side, maybe the offense has really over-performed. Maybe there is still time for the season to go well for MSU. Erroll Thompson Jr., a senior linebacker from Florence, Alabama, said the defense has not found its identity yet. 

"I don't think we have seen this coming, not that I think we have really accomplished anything," Thompson said. "There is still a lot to accomplish. There is still a lot to work on, and we have to be better on the defensive side of the ball, of course."

While the fighter jets on the defensive side of the ball have limited the attacking capabilities of opposing teams, they have room to improve, as they gave a more than 50-yard quarterback scramble to Kentucky on 3rd down and 12. 

Through these three games, it is clear this is an attacking team, that when all systems are go on both sides of the ball, it could be scary. If the offense can find a way to mix up the run game into their Air Raid scheme, it may well create more chances for them to attack through the air, and the defense, well, the defense is doing more than fine already.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.