STARKVILLE, Miss. – Life comes at you fast.
Three weeks ago Mississippi State senior quarterback K.J. Costello set the SEC passing record for yards in a game with 623 against defending national champion LSU. Now it’s unclear if Costello will start against No. 11 Texas A&M (2-1) on Saturday.
“We’ll see,” coach Mike Leach said. “We’re going to have competition at nearly every position out there because we need to get the most cohesive group.”
Is Costello a part of that group? The offense hasn’t looked very cohesive with him on the field the last two weeks. He has thrown seven interceptions and one touchdown in that span. That’s not what Leach brought him in from Stanford to do.
Not knowing if a quarterback who has 28 college starts to his name should start over one who has zero is a microcosm for where Mississippi State (1-2) stands three games into the Leach era, but the Bulldogs are trying to stay the course amid the chaos.
“I think everybody wants things as fast as it can possibly happen,” Leach said. “But then I think it gets revealed what you need to work on then you focus on that. I don’t see a huge sense of frustration as much as a kind of diligent determination to work hard and work smart.”
Leach said Costello shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for Mississippi State’s zero offensive points against Kentucky. There was plenty of it to go around.
“I don’t think we’re protecting well, I don’t think we’re seeing the field very well and I don’t think we’re catching very well or running routes very well,” Leach said.
As for the almost nonexistent running game, Leach said senior running back Kylin Hill “played about like everybody else out there did Saturday.” Those aren’t positive words for a player who led the SEC in rushing a season ago and was pegged by his own coaches to lead the conference in yards per scrimmage this season.
Leach said Hill could have done a better job of getting up field, among many other things. He critiqued Mississippi State’s rushing attack as heavily as the passing game.
“We have to get off the ball,” Leach said. “We have to get off the ball with lower pads. We’ve got to move the three (defensive linemen) and we have to do it quickly because drop eight is just how it starts. Those guys are storming forward the second the ball is snapped. And the other thing is we have to see the hole better. We have to hit the hole harder.”
Of course, there is blame to be had by the guys wearing maroon and white on the sideline too. The players are a product of what they learn from their coaches.
“The biggest thing we have to do as coaches is just coach detail as hard as we can,” Leach said. “Coach detail, reinforce detail, insist on detail. Any time you start out early on, there is going to be some hiccups and bumps in the road. There is going to be stuff that you need to address as urgently as possible and as consistently as possible. It’s just part of the whole process, especially if you’re putting in something new and you don’t have much time to do it.”
Another part of the process is determining who’s locked in and who’s checked out. Leach made that clear in his post-game press conference when he said he might have to purge “malcontents” from the program.
He doubled down Monday.
“I think we do have a few fence riders that are trying to decide if they’re going to commit or if they’re not going to commit to what everybody is doing here,” Leach said. “Any time there is a transition there is a certain number of guys, and I’ve been through a number of these transitions, who are going to so the wait and see thing. ‘Well I’ll see if I like what I see.’ That’s too bad. The train rolls on. They need to jump on board pretty quick or the train is going to roll on without them.”
Right now, the train is stuck at the station. Until Leach, his assistants and the players improve upon the laundry list of items Leach laid out for them, it probably won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
Texas A&M has not won at Davis Wade Stadium since 2012 and coming to Starkville provides an opportunity for Mississippi State to set the train back into motion.