STARKVILLE — Well, that was a buzzkill.
A week after upsetting the defending national champions on their home field, No. 16 Mississippi State laid an egg against an Arkansas team that had lost 20 straight Southeastern Conference contests entering Saturday.
For the second straight week, MSU committed four turnovers, only this time it scored 14 points instead of 44 in a 21-14 loss. After two games, this team seems to be as perplexing as it is interesting.
Only two weeks into his tenure at Mississippi State, Bulldog fans are quickly learning what most Texas Tech and Washington State fans have known for years: Mike Leach can giveth, and Mike Leach can taketh away.
After being unranked in the preseason, MSU vaulted into the AP Top 25 after Week 1. Come Sunday, there’s a great chance the Bulldogs will fall out entirely. But hey, what does being a ranked team even mean in 2020, anyway? Oklahoma, Texas and LSU don’t seem to think much of it.
“I really don’t feel like it was Arkansas as much as it was ourself,” Leach said of the loss postgame.
One week after setting an Southeastern Conference single-game passing record and capturing the hearts of Bulldog fans everywhere, MSU quarterback K.J. Costello went from Superman to Captain Checkdown. While the Tigers refused to make adjustments and move away from man coverage a week ago in Baton Rouge, Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom confused the Stanford transfer with a zone defense all night. The Razorbacks had little to no interest in rushing the passer, only rushing three for a large portion of the night and dropping back eight, daring Costello to thread the needle and beat them.
Costello’s night consisted of three interceptions, decisions that resulted in throwing into double coverage all too often, two instances where he slid one yard short of the sticks on third down and one costly inaccurate throw on fourth down to a wide-open receiver. It’s fair to expect a new quarterback to need time connecting with his receivers, especially considering there was no spring practice and limited time in fall camp. And he still completed 43 of 59 passes for 313 yards. But considering he rewrote MSU record books against a team that calls itself DBU then turns in a subpar performance a week later makes it all the more confusing.
To add insult to injury, freshman Jaden Walley muffed a punt with more than 2:30 remaining with his team down by seven that could have given Costello and the offense one more chance to salvage the night. Walley made impact plays offensively all night, but fans will remember that costly turnover the most. He could use a hug.
So could Kylin Hill. Hill, MSU’s most explosive playmaker, left the game after only one carry and had to watch the rest of the contest without pads on the sidelines. Leach did not provide an update on his star running back after the contest, so who knows how long the injury may linger.
Lost in the defeat will be the defense rising above expectations for the second straight week. Zach Arnett’s group allowed 14 points (if you take away the pick-six) and sacked Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks three times and forced two turnovers. The only times the Razorbacks scored were on blown coverages that will surely result in a few MSU defensive backs taking an unwanted vacation to Leach Beach come Monday.
But really, who has any idea what MSU team is going to show up against Kentucky next Saturday? The Wildcats, who just lost a heartbreaker to Ole Miss because college kickers will break your heart, are desperate for a win.
The MSU team that took the field against LSU should make quick work of Kentucky. If its Week 2 counterpart shows up, things could get ugly again.
Good luck guessing which one it will be.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.