Mike Leach opened his Mississippi State tenure by knocking off defending national champion LSU in Baton Rouge. Indeed, the Bulldogs won their season-opener 44-34 and looked like they could be a force in the SEC.
Then the last two games happened. Mississippi State lost 21-14 to Arkansas and 24-2 to Kentucky.
College football analyst Brian Jones wasn’t exactly stunned.
“We know who Mississippi State is,” Jones said on The DA Show. “They’re exactly who I thought they’d be. I know we were all shocked [by the hire] and we jumped on the bandwagon and we said, ‘Maybe this is something different.’ But if you can’t run the ball in this league, you can’t win in this league – and they can’t run the ball.”
Kylin Hill ran for 1,350 yards – third-most in the SEC – last season. He has just 15 carries for 58 yards through three games. Mississippi State is averaging just 38.7 rushing yards per game, which is last in the SEC. In fact, the Bulldogs aren’t even averaging half as many rushing yards per game as second-worst rushing team, Arkansas (86.3).
“They’re dead last,” Jones said of the Bulldogs. “That’s terrible. Why wouldn’t you lean on Kylin Hill? I said that at the beginning of the season. Yeah, you chucked it around on LSU. Great. But teams catch up to that. All you had to do was employ a simple defense. Rick Neuheisel and I were screaming at [LSU defensive coordinator] Bo Pelini, ‘What the hell are you doing? How about you just rush three, you drop eight, you keep everything in front of you, you come up and you make the tackle?’ They didn’t do that. Of course K.J. Costello and the Bulldogs torched them.”
The last two weeks, however, were a different story. Kentucky shut out Mississippi State’s offense and forced six interceptions.
“They didn’t even score,” Jones said in disbelief. “The offense didn’t even score last week. Kentucky shut them down completely because they can’t run the ball. They got nine interceptions in their last two ball games. We know exactly who they are.”
The one bright spot for Mississippi State? The defense.
“Their defense is playing damn well,” Jones said. “Zach Arnett, the new defensive coordinator, has these guys No. 2 in the SEC in defense. They shut down Terry Wilson and that offense for Kentucky a week ago. The defense is there. The offense, they’re terrible.”
It’s only been three games, but Jones is already convinced that Mississippi State’s gamble on Leach was a mistake.
“No, it’s not going to work,” Jones said. “Unless you get some guys like Bama has. This is no knock on the wide receivers, but if you can’t protect K.J. Costello and these guys can’t get open downfield, no, it’s not going to work. [Leach is] a cautionary tale, just like he was at Texas Tech. He had a year there at Tech where he won double-digit [games] and of course knocked off my Longhorns when they were No. 1. He had a year or two at Washington State where they won double-digit games. We’ll see if it happens at Mississippi State. I’m going to say it will not until you learn how to run the rock.”
Mississippi State hosts No. 11 Texas A&M (2-1) this Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.
In other news, Jones has been frustrated by his alma mater, Texas (2-2), which has dropped back-to-back games to TCU (1-2) and Oklahoma (2-2).
“They can’t run the ball when they need to run the damn ball,” Jones said. “This is [Tom Herman’s] fourth year, and they have no identity. They’ve lost two straight, the program has lost five out of six to Oklahoma, [and] they can’t beat TCU.”
Texas plays Baylor (1-1) on Oct. 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET.