Mississippi State coach Mike Leach broke from SEC Media Days tradition Wednesday, declining to make an opening statement, moving straight to questions. Perhaps it was just as well.
The last time Leach made an opening statement in the SEC, he dropped jaws across the college football landscape. In his first game as head coach with the Bulldogs, they shocked the world and defending national champion LSU, throwing for a conference-record 623 yards in a 44-34 upset in Death Valley.
Welcome to the Air Raid.
For Mississippi State, which went on to finish Leach's debut season at 4-7, there were plenty of questions from there. Did the LSU victory give Leach and company a false sense of the program he had inherited?
"I don't think we got a false sense as much as we were an evolving team and so was LSU," Leach said. "I think that we played several other quality teams extremely close. Then I think that in some cases our experience caught up with us. But we got better as the year went on."
Indeed. After following the LSU victory with four straight defeats, the Bulldogs went 3-3 and finished the year with consecutive wins over Missouri and Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl.
What State does for an encore will depend to a great degree on which quarterback emerges as the starter. There are four candidates, including sophomore Will Rogers, who took over the position during the 2020 season, and Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham.
"We've got a lot better quarterback room than we had last year," Leach said. "We're still a relatively young group other than Jack Abraham. Jack Abraham has got the most experience in the room from when he played at
Southern Miss. Then we've got some really promising young guys, too. So we're looking forward to what unfolds this year."
Leach has a history of developing quarterbacks who set records in his Air Raid offense. He promised that the battle to find a starter at that position "will be very competitive" and that he is not inclined to play two quarterbacks "because that's not just an adjustment to the quarterbacks. It's an adjustment to the team and the players around them."
One of those playmakers, senior wide receiver Austin Williams, said he's excited to witness the quarterback competition.
"The quarterback room is full, but that's good," Williams said. "We love a little competition, a little adversity. Like Coach Leach says, everything is open. Nothing's set in stone. It allows the guys to continue to push each other."
There is one thing set in stone. Despite the ups and downs of his first season as an SEC head coach, Leach still believes in the Air Raid.
"I think that there's a reason that the NFL's adopting so many Air Raid concepts and that the last however many, probably 10 Super Bowls, there's been a super number of Air Raid concepts in all of them," he said. "Because, in my mind, it's an efficient way to move the football because you utilize personnel and utilize the space that you're provided. So I think it's a good way to do things."
Like skipping an opening statement and heading straight to questions.