Mississippi State football expects more offense vs. Arkansas Week 5

K.J. Costello, Mississippi State football (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
K.J. Costello, Mississippi State football (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Mississippi State football under Mike Leach expects more offense led by KJ Costello against the lowly Arkansas Razorbacks.

On the first weekend when college football finally felt like it was back, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were the story last Saturday after upsetting the defending national champion LSU Tigers 44-34.

Following one of the more unusual head coaching hires at the end of 2019, it took Mike Leach exactly one game to fully implement his air raid offense at Mississippi State, putting the entire conference on notice. Transfer quarterback KJ Costello set an SEC record in his first game for the Bulldogs with 623 yards and five touchdowns.

The Bulldogs also managed to do enough on defense by applying pressure and disrupting LSU quarterback Myles Brennan’s presence in the pocket, which resulted in mistakes.

In typical Mike Leach fashion, the head coach then appeared earlier this week atop a literal bandwagon encouraging those who have doubted him to get on.

As for Arkansas, their first game under new coach Sam Pittman resulted in a 37-10 loss against the No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs. Despite the final score, the Razorbacks actually led 7-5 at halftime, and there were signs of hope for fans who were not expecting much.

The defense looked better, holding Georgia to 121 yards rushing after giving up 222 yards per game on the ground last year. They also seemingly brought more energy than last year under former coach Chad Morris.

That said, Georgia played perhaps their worst half of football in years. Also, Arkansas’ offense still needs a lot of work. The ground game featuring Rakeem Boyd never was able to get going against the stout Georgia front. Transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks looked somewhat okay following his season-ending surgery but also threw two picks.

Heading into this matchup, Mississippi State has won seven out of the last eight games against Arkansas.

Date: Saturday, Oct. 3
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Starkville, Miss.
Venue: Davis Wade Stadium
TV: SEC Network Alternate
Live Stream: WatchESPN

Keys to Victory

The main question coming into this game is if Arkansas can slow down Mike Leach’s air raid.

However, Arkansas did hire former Missouri head coach Barry Odom to the defensive coordinator position this past offseason, and talk coming out of camp anticipates multiple defensive schemes this year including a 4-2-5 or even a 3-2-6 formation along with players who can play multiple positions. Now would be a good time to implement something with extra help in the secondary.

LSU’s DBU was torched sans Derek Stingley Jr. after trying to play man-to-man defense for most of the game. It was a hard lesson as receivers Osirus Mitchell and JaVonta Payton combined for over 300 yards. Mississippi State frequently used motion and crossing routes to help get guys open while giving KJ Costello enough time to make throws.

The Razorbacks will need to maintain eye discipline while probably having to primarily play zone defense to try to keep everything in front of them. This requires closing speed by the tacklers to limit yards after the catch. While this remains a risky proposition against KJ Costello, who is absolutely dealing out of the gate, Arkansas likely cannot afford to play man defense against Mississippi State like LSU.

On the other hand, Mississippi State just needs to play smart. Costello should take what the defense gives him and recognize blitzes since Arkansas does not figure to be able to bring enough pressure with just its D line. This could present some one-on-one opportunities.

Amazingly, Mississippi State only had nine rushing yards against LSU as a team, although running back Kylin Hill did have eight catches for 158 yards. If Arkansas has a chance, the one player that they must focus on has to be Hill by trying to take him out of the game.

Similarly, the Bulldogs must limit Boyd for the Razorbacks. He is arguably their best offensive player, and the only time Arkansas has looked like they might win games last season is when they gave him the ball. Force Arkansas to rely on Franks and the unproven passing game.

Betting Odds

Courtesy of The Action Network

Point Spread: Mississippi State -17
Over/under: 69


Both teams need to clean up some mistakes after Mississippi State committed four turnovers in their first game while Arkansas turned the ball over three times. If Costello somehow manages to throw the ball almost 60 times in this game, Arkansas should have a chance to pick off a couple of passes.

That said, Mississippi State is much further along in its offensive development compared Arkansas. So while the Razorbacks might struggle to move the ball, the Bulldogs should be putting up points again. Take the over on the spread.

Final Score: Mississippi State 38, Arkansas 17

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