Mississippi State vs. Kentucky (-2.5)
6:30 p.m. CST | Kroger Field | Lexington, KY | SEC Network
Ah, today is the day that the air raid finally makes its return to Lexington, except this time it won’t be the Wildcats running the pass-heavy offense.
First-year Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach, who served as Hal Mumme’s top offensive assistant during the late 1990s at Kentucky, helped create the air raid attack when the two were together at Iowa Wesleyan, a then-NAIA school in Mount Pleasant.
Following a five-year stop at Division II Valdosta State, Mumme and Leach decided to test out their avant-garde offense in college football’s toughest conference—the SEC.
In what was a shock to many, the air raid proved successful for a Kentucky program that was 9-24 in the three seasons leading up to the arrival of Mumme and Leach.
In 1997, the Wildcats averaged 365 passing yards per game and finished 25th in the nation in scoring, putting up 31.5 points per game. In 1998, they had their first winning season since 1983 and did it while leading the SEC in both scoring and total offense.
By the time the 1999 season rolled around, Leach had left Lexington for Norman, where he served as the offensive coordinator under Bob Stoops, brother of now-Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, at Oklahoma.
Two decades later, and Leach has made his highly anticipated return to the SEC as the air raid mogul looks to show everyone again that his offense can be successful versus college football’s best programs.
Today will also be Leach’s first time coaching in Lexington since he left, and according to the man who has lived in over 20 different places, it’ll be a refreshing return to the Bluegrass State.
“I’m looking forward to going back to Kentucky,” Leach said in his weekly press conference. “In football, you get asked the memory lane question quite a bit. [There’s] not enough time to walk down memory lane, but it’ll be good to see Lexington again.”
Leach, who also used the press conference to practice his reenactment of an actual air raid siren, knows exactly what to expect from Stoops’ defense—eight men dropping back into zone coverage on almost every, single play. Nevertheless, Leach doesn’t foresee it to be much of an issue.
“We always anticipate it,” he explained. “You’ve got to understand that we’re out of business decades ago if drop eight’s some secret deal.”
Even taking into account last week’s flop against Arkansas, the Bulldogs stand at second in the SEC in total offense, averaging 516 yards per game.
For Kentucky, their rushing offense is currently one of the strongest in the NCAA, averaging 276.5 yards per game, but for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs are ranked as the nation’s seventh-best rushing defense, allowing just 71 yards per game on the ground.
Prediction: Kentucky’s running backs will be fine, however, their defensive backs will not be. Expect K.J. Costello and company to torch a Wildcat secondary that gave up four touchdowns last week to Ole Miss. The wrong team is favored here as Mississippi State (+2.5) will come away with the win.