MSU football prepares for season debut at Death Valley

MSU Head Coach Mike Leach rings his cowbell on the day he first arrived in Starkville to start coaching the Bulldogs football team.

There are now 26 days left until Mississippi State University plays Louisiana State University at Death Valley to start off the 2020 football season.  

A new offensive scheme, new coaches and a pandemic have changed how teams have been able to practice. However, MSU is working hard to be able to hit the ground running with the Air Raid scheme. Dave Nichol, the team's inside receivers coach, said the inside receivers have to make more catches and that starts with punishments for dropped passes.

"My guys right then and there do ten up-downs — which doesn't seem like a ton, but when you are running a vertical route of 50 yards, three plays in a row, those ten up-downs are a struggle," Nichol said. 

Catching the football is important in the Air Raid Offense because it is a heavy passing scheme. MSU had a 55% completion rate the past two seasons with 351 out of 638 passes being completed.

By comparison, Washington State University, where Mike Leach formerly coached, had a completion rate of 71% in 2019 with 477 out of 668 passes being completed. Nichol said they have been working on instilling confidence in the receivers, something they lacked at first.

"More than anything, we have been putting it in their brain that they need to expect to catch it," Nichol said. "Early on, when they dropped it, it was like a drop was okay. Just mindset stuff along those lines." 

Former tight end Geor'quarius Spivey, a sophomore from Monroe, Louisiana, has made a transition to be an inside receiver. Spivey said he believes the move will help his development and chances at a professional career.

"I can show how I can make mismatches on the field," Spivey said. "If it's a small guy, I can use more of my size, and if it is a big guy, I can use more of my speed. I feel like it will help me in the future." 

With the new coaching staff came a new practice style and one that Spivey said his fellow players enjoy. The practices have been about working together as a group of peers in their position groups, which Spivey said helps the team get stronger.  

Tyson Brown, the new strength and conditioning coach, started working with the players over the offseason since he first got to Starkville. Spivey said he feels stronger, faster and tougher. 

"The coaches helped me a lot and prepared me enough to play to my full ability," Spivey said. "Everyone get tired all the time, it's just about mental toughness — how are you going to push through." 

Playing in an Air Raid Offense is supposed to cause havoc on a defense, but offensively, it is a scheme that Spivey said is fun to play in because receivers want to make plays. 

From the defensive side, Fred Peters, a senior safety from Columbia, Mississippi, said because the offense is throwing the ball a lot it allows him to work on his man-to-man technique.

"It's just teaching me to get better with my man technique," Peters said. "Like JP (JaVonta Peyton) said, we go against each other every day, and he makes me better."

A transfer from Jones Community College, Peters said he has a lot more confidence this season than he did last year. 

"I feel much better, my confidence is way up there," Peters said. "My man technique, I've been more patient than what I was last year." 

All of this work by the players and new coaching staff is taking place during their practices leading up to the start of their season on September 26 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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