Football

Mississippi State’s frustrating loss to Arkansas is simply part of the Mike Leach experience

Photo: Taylor Fikes/Mississippi State Athletics

“Arkansas gets credit for the win for sure, but I thought a lot of our wounds were self inflicted.” 

That was Mike Leach’s description of Mississippi State’s 21-14 loss to Arkansas on  Saturday. It was the loss that snapped Arkansas’ 20-game SEC losing streak, a streak  broken at the hands of the team that beat LSU in Baton Rouge the week prior and  vaulted to #16 in the AP Poll. 

To many, it was the most Mississippi State sequence of events ever.

It’s caused  extreme confusion about what exactly this football team is. One week, they’re the talk  of the college football world. The next week, they’re one of its laughing stocks. 

While much of that has some truth, when looking at Mike Leach’s past, it’s nothing  abnormal. It’s the continuation of a trend that has been present throughout Mike  Leach’s coaching career.  

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That trend? A really, really stupid loss in a string of successes. 

It’s no secret that Leach suffers some head-scratching losses. However, after doing  some research on those past losses, another specific trend arises. A trend comprised  of offensive performances, nearly exact to that of Mississippi State’s on Saturday.  

Looking at Leach’s bad losses, some can be attributed to injuries or atrocious defense.  An overwhelming majority, though, is a result of a quarterback performance that is  laden with mistakes.  

I’ve gone through each of Mike Leach’s questionable losses over his previous 18 years  as a head coach, and I’ll list each of those games’ stat lines, using Mississippi State’s  offensive statistics as a comparison. 

October 3, 2020  

Arkansas (0-1, 0-1 SEC) 21, #16 Mississippi State (1-0, 1-0 SEC) 14  

Mississippi State QB K.J. Costello 

43/59, 313 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT (1 pick six) 

Additional Mississippi State Mistakes 

– 2 turnovers on downs (4th and 2, Arkansas 13, incomplete pass; 4th and 2,  Arkansas 7, running play) 

A plethora of causes can be thrown around as reasoning behind State’s loss, but it  begins with mistakes made by K.J. Costello and the MSU offense. Three interceptions,  one of which a pick six, and two turnovers on downs ultimately cost State in this  football game. It was most definitely a bad loss, coming off the heels of a win over #6  LSU.

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Now, let’s look at Leach’s head-scratching losses at Texas Tech. Pay attention to the  stat lines in these games. 

October 6, 2001  

Kansas (1-2, 0-1 Big 12) 34, Texas Tech (2-1, 0-1 Big 12) 31 (2OT)  

Texas Tech QBs Kliff Kingsbury and B.J. Symons 

Kingsbury: 23/37, 242 yards, 3 TD 

Symons: 2/9, 15 yards, 1 INT 

Additional Texas Tech Mistakes 

– Missed field goal 

This game is a combination of two factors, both of which played out in Mississippi  State’s loss to Arkansas: injury and poor quarterback performance. Looking at the  stats, Kliff Kingsbury played a solid game. However, he sprained his thumb in the 3rd  quarter of this game, causing backup B.J. Symons to enter the game. Symons’ poor  performance ultimately cost Texas Tech, as he threw an interception in double overtime  to give Kansas the victory. If Kingsbury had not been injured, the Red Raiders probably  would’ve won this game, and the same can be said about Kylin Hill for Mississippi  State on Saturday.  

Kanas would finish the season 3-8 (1-7 Big 12), while Texas Tech finished the season  7-5 (4-4 Big 12) with wins over #24 Kansas State and #24 Texas A&M, the K-State win  coming the week after TTU’s loss to Kansas. 

September 11, 2004  

New Mexico (0-1, 0-0 Mountain West) 27, Texas Tech (1-0, 0-0 Big 12) 24  

Texas Tech QB Sonny Cumbie 

44/69, 449 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT 

Additional Texas Tech Mistakes 

– Fumble 

– 2 missed field goals 

– Turnover on downs (4th and 8, New Mexico 33, incomplete pass) 

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This game is a prototypical loss by mistakes. Two interceptions, a fumble, two missed  field goals, and a turnover on downs. Six wasted possessions. Sonny Cumbie’s stat  line is quite similar to that of K.J. Costello, a productive day yardage wise with a  touchdown, but that’s negated with two interceptions. Take away one or two of those  mistakes, and Texas Tech probably wins that game. 

New Mexico would finish the season 7-5 (5-2 Mountain West), while Texas Tech  finished the season 8-4 (5-3 Big 12), #18 in the final AP Poll, with wins over #23 

Oklahoma State and #4 Cal in the Holiday Bowl, and a win over TCU in the week after  TTU’s loss to New Mexico. 

November 12, 2005  

Oklahoma State (3-5, 0-5 Big 12) 24, #13 Texas Tech (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) 17  

Texas Tech QB Cody Hodges  

29/42, 308 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT 

Additional Texas Tech Mistakes 

– 2 fumbles 

– Missed field goal 

– Turnover on downs (4th and 8, Oklahoma State 23, incomplete pass) 

Once again, this game is a mistake fest. While the quarterback’s stat line didn’t show  an abundance of mistakes (only one pick), it’s obvious he didn’t have his best game. As  the AP’s recap of the game states, “The Cowboys stymied the nation’s top offense  from the start…” On top of that, there were more wasted possessions, with two  fumbles, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs in Oklahoma State territory. 

Oklahoma State would finish the season 4-7 (1-7 Big 12), while Texas Tech finished the  season 9-3 (6-2 Big 12), #20 in the final AP Poll, with a win over Oklahoma in the week  after TTU’s loss to Oklahoma State. 

October 14, 2006  

Colorado (0-6, 0-2 Big 12) 30, Texas Tech (4-2, 1-1 Big 12) 6  

Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell  

26/39, 236 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT 

Additional Texas Tech Mistakes 

– 2 fumbles 

– Turnover on downs 

This might be a worse loss than State’s loss to Arkansas. Colorado, a winless team  who lost to Montana State and Colorado State earlier in the year, had a 10-game losing  streak snapped at the hands of Mike Leach’s Texas Tech team. Why was that?  Mistakes. Graham Harrell’s stat line is eerily similar to K.J. Costello’s. A touchdown and  three picks. On top of that, Texas Tech fumbled the ball twice and had a turnover on  downs. A clunker in every sense of the word. 

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Colorado would finish the season 2-10 (2-6 Big 12), while Texas Tech finished the  season 8-5 (4-4 Big 12) with a road win over Iowa State in the week after TTU’s loss to  Colorado.

October 24, 2009  

Texas A&M (3-3, 0-2 Big 12) 52, #21 Texas Tech (5-2, 2-1 Big 12) 30  

Texas Tech QB Taylor Potts 

25/36, 310 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT 

Additional Texas Tech Mistakes 

– 3 fumbles 

– 2 turnovers on downs (4th and 1, Texas A&M 29, running play; 4th and 10, Texas  A&M 25, incomplete pass) 

In the final head-scratching loss of the Mike Leach era at Texas Tech, mistakes win the  day. While throwing two touchdowns, Taylor Potts also threw it into Texas A&M hands  twice, causing him to be benched in the middle of the game. To bring the message  home, the Red Raiders also fumbled it three times with two turnovers on downs, both  inside the A&M 30. Seven wasted possessions.  

Texas A&M would finish the season 6-7 (3-5 Big 12), while Texas Tech finished the  season 9-4 (5-3 Big 12), #21 in the final AP Poll, with a win over #15 Nebraska and a  win over Kansas in the week after TTU’s loss to Texas A&M. 

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Final Stats at Texas Tech  

Bad Losses 

QB TD-INT: 8-9 

Fumbles: 8 

Turnovers on downs: 5  

Missed field goals: 4 

Record One Week After Bad Loss 

5-0 

Wins over Ranked Teams (2000-2009) 

12 (5 top-10 wins) 

2009 would be Mike Leach’s last season at Texas Tech, and he was hired by  Washington State prior to the 2012 season. 

September 5, 2014  

Nevada (1-0, 0-0 Mountain West) 24, Washington State (0-1, 0-0 Pac 12) 13  

Washington State QB Connor Halliday 

38/57, 389 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT 

Additional Washington State Mistakes

– 2 turnovers on downs 

– 2 missed field goals 

The only potentially justifiable thing about this loss is that it was a bad Washington  State team. However, at the time, it was a rough loss. Washington State made it to its  first bowl game in a decade the year prior, and Nevada was 4-8 in 2013. And it was a  mistake-riddled game. Two picks for Connor Halliday, plus four more wasted  possessions for the Cougars. Bad loss, bad mistakes. 

Nevada would finish the season 7-6 (4-4 Mountain West), while Washington State  finished the season 3-9 (2-7 Pac 12), only Leach’s 2nd losing season as a head coach. 

September 5, 2015  

Portland State (0-0, 0-0 Big Sky) 24, Washington State (0-0, 0-0 Pac 12) 17  

Washington State QBs Luke Falk and Peyton Bender 

Falk: 27/41, 289 yards, 2 TD 

Bender: 1/4, 18 yards, 1 INT 

Additional Washington State Mistakes 

– Missed field goal 

– Turnover on downs (4th and 3, Portland State 27, incomplete pass) 

Similar to Texas Tech’s 2001 loss to Kansas, a couple of factors contributed to this  loss. The number of mistakes wasn’t astronomical in this game, with only three wasted  possessions, but there was a critical injury late in the game to quarterback Luke Falk.  Taking a massive shot while running for a 1st down in Wazzu’s last possession of the  game, Falk was taken out and replaced by backup Peyton Bender, whose time in the  game wasn’t to be desired, ending in a game-ending interception. It was also a cold,  rainy game, which Washington State players and coaches said contributed to the loss.  

Portland State would finish the season 9-3 (6-2 Big Sky), while Washington State  finished the season 9-4 (6-3 Pac 12) with a win over #18 UCLA and a road win over  Rutgers in the week after Wazzu’s loss to Portland State. 

September 3, 2016  

Eastern Washington (0-0, 0-0 Big Sky) 45, Washington State (0-0, 0-0 Pac 12) 42  

Washington State QB Luke Falk 

41/51, 418 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT 

Additional Washington State Mistakes 

– Missed field goal

Yeah, this is an anomaly. This goes under the previously-mentioned third category of  loss, a pitiful defensive performance. Eastern Washington racked up 606 total yards of  offense in this game, including a stellar 35/41 for 496-yard performance through the air.  Mississippi State’s defense has been nothing short of fantastic so far this year, so it  might be safe to say we won’t see many losses like this, if any. 

Eastern Washington would finish the season 12-2 (8-0 Big Sky), while Washington  State finished the season 8-5 (7-2 Pac 12) with a win #15 Stanford. Leach’s first post bad loss setback came this season, a 31-28 road loss to Boise State, who would finish  the year 10-3. 

October 13, 2017  

Cal (3-3, 0-3 Pac 12) 37, #8 Washington State (6-0, 3-0 Pac 12) 3  

Washington State QB Luke Falk 

28/43, 286 yards, 5 INT 

Additional Washington State Mistakes 

– 2 fumbles (1 returned for TD) 

– Missed field goal 

This is the worst performance of all. Sub-300 yards for Luke Falk with five picks.  Regardless of opponent, this is probably going to be an L. Add two fumbles, one of  which a touchdown, plus a missed field goal, and you’re in even more trouble. This  game was yet another bad loss, chalked up to an abundance of mistakes. 

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Cal would finish the season 5-7 (2-7 Pac 12), while Washington State finished the  season 9-4 (6-3 Pac 12) with wins over #5 USC and #18 Stanford, along with a win  over Colorado in the week after Wazzu’s loss to Cal. 

September 21, 2019  

UCLA (0-3, 0-0 Pac 12) 67, #19 Washington State (3-0, 0-0 Pac 12) 63  

Washington State QB Anthony Gordon 

41/61, 570 yards, 9 TD, 2 INT 

Additional Washington State Mistakes 

– 4 fumbles  

– Punt return TD 

This loss is the most mind-bending one on the list. I remember watching this game.  The Cougars held on to a 49-17 lead in the 3rd quarter before giving it away in epic  fashion. The stat line of Anthony Gordon is honestly unreal. The additional mistakes, as  you can tell, are where the game was lost. But, it wasn’t only the mistakes, it was the  timing of them. Washington State’s four fumbles all came in the 2nd half. Four of 

Wazzu’s final seven possessions ended in fumbles. UCLA also returned a punt for a  touchdown to give them a 60-56 lead in the 4th quarter, before Wazzu responded with  a touchdown of their own. After that? Back-to-back fumbles for Wazzu and a loss.  Mistakes on mistakes on mistakes. 

UCLA would finish the season 4-8 (4-5 Pac 12), while Washington State finished the  season 6-7 (3-6 Pac 12).  

Final Stats at Washington State  

Bad Losses 

QB TD-INT: 16-11 

Fumbles: 6 

Turnovers on downs: 3 

Missed field goals: 5 

Punt return TDs: 1 

Record One Week After Bad Loss 

3-2 

Wins over Ranked Teams (2012-2019) 

9 (1 top-10 win) 

The conclusion of all this? Mississippi State’s loss to Arkansas is a part of the Mike Leach experience. While Texas Tech and Washington State fans didn’t deal with it until a year or two into it, State fans dealt with it after the first two weeks. It’ll continue to happen. 

The Mike Leach experience will reap some great rewards. However, expect it to kill you  in the process.

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