It took 60 passes in 60 minutes for Mike Leach to earn the biggest victory in a coaching career that started in 2000.
After all those years with Texas Tech and Washington State, Leach’s “Air Raid” finally arrived in the SEC. That’s where Mississippi State upset sixth-ranked, defending national champion LSU 44-34 in Tiger Stadium — a win that will reverberate across the Southeastern Conference for years to come.
It was 60 passes in 60 minutes against LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who will appear on “60 Minutes” on the same CBS Network on Sunday night. What a day, right?
“It’s better than average, I’ll tell you that,” Leach said on the CBS telecast after the game. “There are a lot of ghosts in this stadium. We played LSU because New England, Green Bay and Chiefs had somebody scheduled.”
Forget about those NFL teams: This is the biggest college football headline on a weekend when the SEC returns to football amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Leach went from Lubbock, Texas, to Pullman, Wash., before landing in Starkville, Miss. It’s the most obtuse road to a career-defining victory possible.
Of course it happened with the help of Stanford transfer quarterback K.J. Costello, who set the new SEC single-game passing yards record with 623 yards. He completed 36 of 60 passes with five touchdowns, breaking a record set in 1993 by Georgia’s Eric Zeier (544 yards).
The rest of the box score is staggering. Receivers Osirus Mitchell (seven catches 183 yards, two touchdowns) and JaVonta Payton (six catches, 122 yards) cleared the century mark. Running back Kylin Hill — who was instrumental in getting the state of Mississippi to change the state flag in the summer — added eight receptions, 158 receiving yards, one touchdown reception and 34 rushing yards. They shredded LSU’s defense.
It’s not just about those stats. It’s about the way in which the Bulldogs won. Mississippi State blew a 10-point lead but had the ball with the score tied at 34 with 9:37 remaining. Costello led a field goal drive before a game-clinching touchdown drive with 3:39 remaining.
Leach brought that unapologetic pass-happy offense to the SEC, just like we thought he would. It worked in spectacular fashion.
Minimize that if you want. LSU lost Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and 13 other NFL Draft selections. Myles Brennan was making his first start. Passing game coordinator Joe Brady and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda were gone too, and Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase opted out. All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. was a game-day scratch because of illness. Maybe the stars were aligned for Leach to pull off the upset.
But the SEC doesn’t make excuses, and Leach never got the benefit of the doubt in games like this. He entered the game with a 6-20 record against top-10 teams through his time at Texas Tech and Washington State.
Here’s a refresher on the victories:
|Nov. 16, 2002||Texas Tech 42, No. 4 Texas 38|
|Dec. 30, 2004||Texas Tech 45, No. 4 Cal 31|
|Nov. 17, 2007||Texas Tech 34, No. 3 Oklahoma 27|
|Nov. 1, 2008||Texas Tech 39, No. 1 Texas 33|
|No. 8, 2008||Texas Tech 56, No. 8 Oklahoma State 20|
|Sept. 29, 2017||Washington State 30, No. 5 USC 27|
This was bigger than that night Sonny Cumbie outdueled Aaron Rodgers at the Holiday Bowl in 2004, or when Luke Falk outdueled USC on a Friday night upset in 2017. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as Michael Crabtree’s touchdown against Texas in 2008, part of a two-week stretch where Leach’s “Air Raid” peaked with the Red Raiders.
That was 12 years ago, and times have changed. Texas just beat Texas Tech 63-56 in overtime on Saturday. We have been desensitized to those shootouts in the Big 12. Leach brought that style to the best conference in college football and knocked off a top-10 team in his first swing. He did what Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin couldn’t do earlier in the day against Florida (and former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen) in a 51-35 loss.
Where does it go from here? Leach will get several more shots at the top 10 this season. No. 10 Texas A&M visits Starkville on Oct. 17; the Bulldogs travel to No. 2 Alabama on Halloween, and there are November dates with No. 8 Auburn and No. 4 Georgia.
One top-10 victory is part of “The Process,” but Leach at least brings a new style to the table. We have no idea how those SEC contenders will handle Leach — even if we already know what he’s going to do. Remember when Arkansas men’s basketball coach Nolan Richardson brought “40 minutes of Hell” to the SEC?
Leach’s football version lasts 20 more minutes, and it came back to life in Death Valley. Expect to see 60 passes in 60 minutes every week.
The “Air Raid” is here to stay.