Brian Kelly breaks down challenges Mississippi State’s air-raid offense will pose on Saturday

·4 min read

Coach Brian Kelly’s first SEC game won’t come against a typical SEC opponent, at least from a schematic perspective.

Mississippi State is in the third season of the Mike Leach experiment after poaching the seasoned coach from Washington State. Leach is a disciple of Hal Mumme, the architect of the “air-raid” offense, and he’s one of only a handful of coaches to keep the concept alive in 2022.

Essentially, the air-raid is a spread offense that generally features four receivers out wide with one running back in the backfield with the quarterback in the shotgun. As the name would suggest, it’s characterized by high-volume passing.

At his press conference on Monday, Kelly broke down the challenge Leach’s offense will pose in his SEC coaching debut.

“I have such great respect for coach Leach, and obviously, it starts with the offense,” Kelly said. “It is a precision offense, it is extremely well-coached and there’s a level of, I would say, patience and persistence that you need on defense because if you’re trying to disrupt it in one fashion there are answers that they have. The answers are tried and true and tested.

“Look, this is going to come down to our guys’ attention to detail. They’re going to have to tackle very, very well. This really puts the tenants of really good defensive football on display, you’ve got to be able to not only tackle but be in really good positional awareness all day… I’m not here to compare across the board, but this is like triple option. The precision of the scheme, the way that it’s set up, if you’re not taking care of your assignment and doing your job, you’re going to get exposed.”

The comparison to the triple option is an interesting one, and it’s easy to see what Kelly means. It’s very difficult for a scout team to replicate in practice, at least to the same degree of effectiveness you would expect to see from a team that runs it every week.

It’s likely for this reason that Leach has found offensive success even in a league as loaded with fast and physical defenses as the SEC. In his first season in 2020, the Bulldogs’ passing game ranked fifth in the SEC. Last year, it led the league.

So far in 2022, it ranks second just behind defending national champion Georgia. Will Rogers leads the SEC in passing yards, though, with 763 on the year. He’s also thrown nine touchdown passes, three more than any other SEC quarterback.

Kelly elaborated on how the Tigers are attempting to prepare for this passing offense.

“People think that there’s a lot of curveballs, but this is dive, QB keep or pitch,” he said. “There’s maybe four, five, six concepts that are run so well, so efficiently, that if you get too cute on defense, that’s where you get exposed. Or you try to do one thing to take it away, if you play too much man, if you play too much three-man rush, if you try to be one-dimensional defensively, that’s where you get in trouble.

“This is really about, try to change up your looks, try to make it so they don’t see the same thing every time, but they’re going to run what they run, and they just run it better than you can defend it in three days of preparation… You’d better have a really good plan on some of the things that they really like to do, or you’re going to get exposed.

The 1-1 Tigers would love to get some momentum on their side this weekend after the Week 1 loss to Florida State took the wind out of their sails. If that’s going to happen, LSU will have to weather one of the toughest challenges this new-look secondary will face all season.

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Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire