Two weeks ago, if someone told you K.J. Costello would have been benched for a true freshman two games after he began his Mississippi State career throwing for 623 yards against the defending national champions, that person would have been laughed out of the room.
The laughter would have escalated even further if you told Mississippi State fans the team would score a combined 16 points against Arkansas and Kentucky, two of those coming from a botched snap on a punt. That person would have then been anointed comedian of the year if they predicted the Bulldogs would score a measly two points in a 24-2 loss to the Wildcats — the fewest a Mike Leach-coached team has ever scored.
But here we are.
After one incredible upset victory that looks less and less impressive as LSU’s defense continues to be exposed by the rest of the Southeastern Conference, Leach’s air raid has since devolved into a mess; a plane that took off from the runway with precision only to crash face first at 38,000 feet without a parachute.
Let’s call a spade a spade: Costello stunk on Saturday. He threw a pick-six for the third straight game. He came close to throwing a fourth, but the defender was tackled a yard short of the end zone. His awareness leaves a lot to be desired, as evident by his sliding short of the sticks one yard short on third down twice last week then throwing a forward pass three yards past the line of scrimmage against Kentucky. Let’s just say 232 yards on 55 attempts isn’t going to get it done. Nor will four interceptions.
Fans cried out for true freshman Will Rogers at halftime, and it took Leach longer than that to turn to him. Most maroon faithful were aghast it took Leach so long to bench Costello, but I kind of understand why he didn’t opt to make the change earlier. Costello is only two weeks removed from throwing for an absurd amount of passing yards, while his backup and eventual replacement is a true freshman that was making his first appearance on the road after not being available for the first two weeks of the season.
But Leach had to try something different. He had no choice. The problem was, Rogers didn’t look much better, throwing two interceptions in 15 passes. He only lasted a few series, as Leach eventually put his incumbent starter back in.
“I didn’t think he was as much as he would’ve been, but it is what it is,” Leach said of Rogers’ fitness after missing the first two weeks. “Whoever’s the best one that you think can help you play, that’s the guy you go to. I was hoping Will could give us a spark.”
So with neither option looking promising for now, who does the first-year coach start against a Texas A&M team coming off a monumental win over Florida?
“We’ll have to go back to the film and evaluate,” Leach said postgame of who would start at quarterback going forward.
And yet, while he was a large reason for the dysfunction, laying the blame for the offense trodding through mud solely on Costello isn’t accurate.
Receivers dropped passes. The offensive line struggled to contain a pass rush that was only rushing three to four players at a time. MSU committed eight penalties and was paltry on third down (3 of 17).
You get the point.
“Our problems aren’t in one spot; it’s all of us,” Leach said.
Nevertheless, the problems are abundant. The most immediate remedy needed: stop turning the ball over. Fourteen turnovers in 12 quarters is enough to make any coach blush.
Considering the madness 2020 has brought in all aspects of life, it’s easy to forget expectations for Leach’s first year at MSU were relatively low when his hiring was announced. The program was going to overhaul its offensive system for an entirely different offensive concept. MSU has never run anything of the sort in the past, so many prognosticators thought it would take a few years to get the personnel Leach wanted in place to run the air raid.
Those takes were silenced after Week 1 but have since crept back up again.
The Bulldogs have gone from national darlings to national afterthought in the span of two weeks, and Leach seems like he’s already getting ready to sound an alarm.
“We’re going to have to check our group and see who really wants to play here,” Leach said.
We’ve seen Leach make similar statements before at different programs. Maybe the transfer portal will see new players added; maybe it won’t.
It will be interesting what the self-proclaimed pirate does to attempt to fix his offense the next few weeks, but he’ll have his hands full.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.