Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach will match up with his former employer in the Texas Tech Red Raiders come December 28th in the Liberty Bowl at 5:45 p.m. Lots have changed since the Leach era in Lubbock, so we decided to dive in and see just what’s what with the 6-6 Red Raiders.
The two teams are fairly close in terms of record, with MSU sitting at 7-5 and Tech at the aforementioned .500 mark, but the path that the Raiders have taken to get said wins has been unconventional to say the least, and it all starts at the top.
1. The Head Coach(es)
Tech started the season under the tutelage of Matt Wells and despite having a winning record at the time, Wells was let go before Halloween earlier this season. This sent the Red Raiders into a little bit of uncertainty, causing them to start three different quarterbacks for multiple games this year.
Tech made a surprising move and hired Baylor associate head coach Joey McGuire to lead the program back in early November, but had allowed interim head coach and former offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie to finish out the 2021 campaign. Cumbie, though, was hired as the Louisiana Tech head coach following the completion of the regular season. Cumbie played under Leach during his time at Texas Tech, and will remain with the team to coach them in the Liberty bowl before shipping out to Ruston to coach a different Bulldogs team.
2. The Quarterback(s)
As mentioned earlier, Texas Tech has started three different quarterbacks for multiple games this year due to one reason or another. The starter coming into the season was Tyler Shough, who by all accounts was indeed that guy, winning his first 3 games. Shough went down with a broken collarbone in the Raider’s game against Texas, though, forcing Tech to bring in senior signal-caller Henry Colombi.
Colombi was a competitor, no doubt, but his lack of arm talent has landed him squarely on the pine with a 1:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Enter freshman Donovan Smith.
Smith started his first game of the season against Iowa State where he guided Tech to a 41-38 win. Smith completed 25-32 passes on the game for 322 yards. He also has the ability to use his legs, as he amassed over 100 yards and 2 touchdowns in his short time as the Red Raider front man during the regular season.
Smith will more than likely draw the start for Tech in the Liberty Bowl, but Bulldog fans should not be surprised if several different signal-callers trot onto the field for the Red Raiders if things start going south.
3. The Leaky Defense
Mississippi State’s defense hasn’t exactly been rock solid this year, but it’s been quite a bit more impressive than that of the Red Raiders.
Tech allows as near as makes no difference 32 points per contest on the season and 385 total yards. Obviously, the Bulldogs are going to continue to throw the ball, and that may be as sound of a strategy as possible, as the Red Raiders have allowed 28 touchdowns through the air this season alone. By comparison, Mississippi State has allowed only 19.
Those pass defense numbers aren’t the only part of the Tech defense that shows some weakness, though, as the Red Raiders also allow 144 rushing yards per game. To put all those numbers into words, Texas Tech has had a tendency to give up big plays this year, and although Will Rogers and company don’t look to drive the ball deep down the field, the opportunity just might present itself in this game better than any the Bulldogs have been in excluding Tennessee State.
All in all, Bulldogs fans should have a lot to look forward to with a very winnable bowl game in short driving distance for many alumni and fans. Leach does not intend to overlook Tech, though, or the money the Red Raiders still owe him from his tenure in Lubbock.
“They still owe me for 2009,” said Leach to reporters in a recent press conference, “…maybe they’ll deliver the check, so we’ll see what happens there.”