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Alabama vs. Mississippi State Preview: When the Bulldogs have the Ball

Air Raid? More like Air Fade. I’m so sorry.

Arkansas v Mississippi State Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

If, at this point in your college football-watching career, you still don’t know what kind of offense Mike Leach runs, here’s a quick rundown: You pass the ball on 1st down. You pass the ball on 2nd down. You pass the ball on 3rd down. And you pass the ball on 4th down.

Leach beat the analytics crowd by nearly 2 decades, gotten numerous QBs to set NCAA-level passing volume records, and still has never really accomplished too much in terms of overall team success.

The air raid offense nearly always has four receivers (or three and a tight end) spread out as wide as they can from the line of scrimmage, with a running back that is either blocking, running a route out of the backfield, or sometimes going to be a 5th wide out in empty sets. There’s not typically a whole lot of motion or deception, its just a whole bunch of receivers all running routes at once. You see a lot of short crossers and drag routes across the middle of the field designed to beat man coverage, and there’s typically at least one guy running a route to each level of the field on any given play.

For the Bulldogs, grad transfer QB K.J. Costello was crowned cowbell jesus after putting up massive numbers against LSU in week 1. Since then, though, the former Stanford Cardinal has thrown 8 interceptions to just 1 touchdown in 3 games. He was replaced by freshman Will Rogers last week, who came in the game and completed 15/18 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t have much in the way of big passes, but he took a lot of easy throws for short yards and didn’t throw an interception, so that in itself was a huge improvement.

Running back Kylin Hill is obviously the team’s best player, and rumors are swirling he may be opting out the rest of the season. In any case, Hill is the team’s leading receiver, and his back-up, Jo’quavious Marks, has the same number of receptions as Hill with half the yards. The two have combined for 147 rushing yards through four games. There just isn’t a run game with this team.

6’5” senior receiver Osirus Mitchell is entering his third year as a starter and has been the team’s main receiving threat outside of Kylin Hill. There’s a horde of other receivers behind him, but Mitchell is the guy.

Former Alabama receiver Tyrell Shavers has just announced he is transferring out, as has last year’s starting QB, Garrett Schrader, who was converted to a wide receiver.

All in all, this is a team that put up huge numbers against an underprepared and hungover LSU team in week 1 and has been absolutely horrendous ever since. And now they’ve likely lost their best player.

For Alabama’s part, you have to think that the Bulldog RB, Marks, is going to get an infuriating amount of catches in the middle of the field. He’s already the top receiver for the team (in volume, not yards), and Alabama’s linebackers have proven for two straight years they can’t understand the concept of a running back catching passes.

I also expect the Bulldogs to be able to get some passes completed across the middle with safeties trying to correctly pass off all the crossers. So I think they put together a few more sustained drives than what Alabama fans are going to be comfortable with.

On the other hand, I don’t see any big play ability from anyone on that team with Hill not playing, and cornerbacks Pat Surtain and Josh Jobe should be able to slow down any attempts to truly throw the ball down field. Alabama shouldn’t blitz much, as this offense is designed to kill blitz and man-coverage happy defenses. So there will be a lot of 3 man rushes, and it could be a good chance for the main defensive linemen to try to get some sacks just on a sheer volume of attempts.