STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State head football coach Mike Leach held his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon to preview this week’s game in Lexington, Kentucky, against the Kentucky Wildcats, where he spent two seasons as offensive coordinator in 1997 and 1998.
Senior running back Kylin Hill was knocked out of Saturday’s game and freshman quarterback Will Rogers has been dealing with an injury all season, but Leach believes both Hill and Rogers will be available for this week’s contest.
To counter Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense, Arkansas played mostly zone coverage with eight guys dropping back into coverage. Leach fully anticipates that to be the case this week, too.
“We’ve always anticipated,” Leach said. “I mean, over the years we’ve seen a lot more zone than we have man, but you know, obviously we need to be more precise in one, where we align and two, where we sit. I didn’t see that so much as some magic to the game. I mean, our execution was the difference. They executed. We didn’t.”
Leach said that the best way to attack a team that is dropping eight back consistently is to “just be patient, put it in place, stretch the field” and “run the ball, be more consistently strong up front.”
Quarterback K.J. Costello has passed the ball 119 times for 936 yards and six touchdowns in two games so far. He has also thrown five interceptions in the process, though. He will continue to be aggressive with the football, but Leach discussed how to do it more carefully to limit the interceptions.
“The majority of the problems are forces,” Leach said. “Not all of them are him. Sometimes he’s getting hit or sometimes the ball bounces funny. But plenty of them are forced throws, trying to make too much happen. We tried to score two touchdowns on one play. You can’t do that. You have to go out there and put it in play and utilize all the positions out there.”
Leach then discussed what he wants to see from his signal-caller in practice this week.
“Don’t try to do too much. He’s good with his job. He knows his job,” Leach said. “The thing is as you compete and you’re aggressive, he always tries to take it a step further. But if you do that then the whole thing gets tangled up. I want him to keep the simple things simple and have his eyes in the right place. Don’t try to do too much. Just do his job because there’s a lot of other weapons and receivers out there to help him. That’s going to be easier as we protect better.”
As far as Kentucky goes, Leach said the Wildcats are a “tough gritty team.” He says they want to run the ball and use the clock and the Bulldogs are going to throw it, so it’ll be a good contrast. He said he thinks “both defenses are starting to kind of take shape.”
Leach says it’ll be nice to be back in his old stomping grounds.
“It’s a great place,” Leach said. “I have a lot of friends there. It’s just a gorgeous city, Lexington is, and a great setting for a football game. Now, I’m looking forward to going back to Kentucky. Not a lot of time to walk down memory lane, but it’ll be good to see Lexington again.”
The Bulldogs face the Wildcats on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT with the game airing on SEC Network.