Mississippi State vs. Kentucky (-2.5)
6:30 p.m. CST | Kroger Field | Lexington, KY | SEC Network
Ah, today is the day that the air raid finally makes its return to Lexington, except this time it won’t be the Wildcats running the pass-heavy offense.
First-year Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach, who served as Hal Mumme’s top offensive assistant during the late 1990s at Kentucky, helped create the air raid attack when the two were together at Iowa Wesleyan, a then-NAIA school in Mount Pleasant.
Following a five-year stop at Division II Valdosta State, Mumme and Leach decided to test out their avant-garde offense in college football’s toughest conference—the SEC.
In what was a shock to many, the air raid proved successful for a Kentucky program that was 9-24 in the three seasons leading up to the arrival of Mumme and Leach.
In 1997, the Wildcats averaged 365 passing yards per game and finished 25th in the nation in scoring, putting up 31.5 points per game. In 1998, they had their first winning season since 1983 and did it while leading the SEC in both scoring and total offense.
By the time the 1999 season rolled around, Leach had left Lexington for Norman, where he served as the offensive coordinator under Bob Stoops, brother of now-Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, at Oklahoma.
Two decades later, and Leach has made his highly anticipated return to the SEC as the air raid mogul looks to show everyone again that his offense can be successful versus college football’s best programs.
Today will also be Leach’s first time coaching in Lexington since he left, and according to the man who has lived in over 20 different places, it’ll be a refreshing return to the Bluegrass State.
“I’m looking forward to going back to Kentucky,” Leach said in his weekly press conference. “In football, you get asked the memory lane question quite a bit. [There’s] not enough time to walk down memory lane, but it’ll be good to see Lexington again.”
Leach, who also used the press conference to practice his reenactment of an actual air raid siren, knows exactly what to expect from Stoops’ defense—eight men dropping back into zone coverage on almost every, single play. Nevertheless, Leach doesn’t foresee it to be much of an issue.
“We always anticipate it,” he explained. “You’ve got to understand that we’re out of business decades ago if drop eight’s some secret deal.”
Even taking into account last week’s flop against Arkansas, the Bulldogs stand at second in the SEC in total offense, averaging 516 yards per game.
For Kentucky, their rushing offense is currently one of the strongest in the NCAA, averaging 276.5 yards per game, but for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs are ranked as the nation’s seventh-best rushing defense, allowing just 71 yards per game on the ground.
Prediction: Kentucky’s running backs will be fine, however, their defensive backs will not be. Expect K.J. Costello and company to torch a Wildcat secondary that gave up four touchdowns last week to Ole Miss. The wrong team is favored here as Mississippi State (+2.5) will come away with the win.
#2 Alabama (-23.5) vs. Ole Miss
6:30 p.m. CST | Vaught Hemingway Stadium | Oxford, MS | ESPN
Since 2017, playing Alabama has been kind of like ripping off a band-aid for Ole Miss. It’s nice getting it over with, especially early on in the season.
These have been the scores from the last three years, all in favor of the Crimson Tide: 59-31, 62-7, and 66-3.
The good news for the Rebels is that this year’s team, at least offensively, is tremendously better than those of the last three seasons.
Through two games, Ole Miss has the most efficient offense in the Southeastern Conference. Completing the ball 77.4 percent of the time, quarterback Matt Corral and his up-tempo offensive unit are averaging 38.5 points per game.
The bad news for the Rebels is that Hurricane Delta made landfall in Louisiana as of Friday evening. For those that aren’t too well-versed in the realm of meteorology, it’s typically worse to be on the east side of the storm, which Oxford coincidentally is.
As rain tends to equal more rushing, expect Alabama running back Najee Harris to have his biggest game of the season behind one of the SEC’s top offensive lines.
Don’t knock Ole Miss’ rushing attack, though, as Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner, and Corral are combining for over 135 yards per game.
The main difference between these two teams comes on the defensive line.
On one hand, you have an Ole Miss defense missing four starters on the defensive front from a year ago, and the lack of experience is glaring. Last week against Kentucky, the Rebels allowed 409 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
On the other hand, Alabama’s defensive line, which boasts two of Sporting News‘ top 50 draft prospects in Christian Barmore and LaBryan Ray, leads a defensive unit that ranks as the NCAA’s fifteenth best, giving up a mere 2.88 yards per carry.
Unfortunately for Ole Miss, nothing—from weather to defensive talent—seems to be on their side as head coach Lane Kiffin considers this Alabama team to be “probably the best team Coach (Saban) has had.”
Prediction: The Rebels (+23.5) cover the spread, keeping the game within three possessions, but the Crimson Tide come away with a comfortable win.