Okay, okay, I refuse to be hyper-cliche and be just another among the hundreds of media pundits to call this year's AutoZone Liberty Bowl the "Mike Leach Bowl." I'm sure you've already seen that moniker plenty of times for this bowl game. And if you're a Texas Tech (6-6) fan or a Mississippi State (7-5) fan, you’re probably already sick of hearing about how current Bulldog head coach Mike Leach used to be the former Red Raider head coach Mike Leach.
But it IS worth noting that "The Pirate" still has a $2.5 million lawsuit over his firing as the Red Raiders coach back in 2009 that is still pending in the courts. So the motivation to pound the Double T into a moist spot in the dirt is in the Bulldogs' corner.
Leach, who is the winningest coach in Texas Tech history, says in his wry, smug way, "You know they still owe me for 2009, the last time they won nine games."
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech (6-6) vs. Mississippi State (7-5)
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 28 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (Memphis, Tenn.)
Spread: Mississippi State -9.5
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
The Red Raiders have lost four of their last five games coming into this one, but quarterback Donovan Smith has been somewhat of a bright spot. In the last four games, he has completed 66 of his 106 passes for 869 yards and six touchdowns. He'll be short of a couple of targets though as Erik Ezukanma, the only real big-play threat, has opted out of the bowl game. In addition, wide receivers Myles Price and Loic Fouonji, and tight end Travis Koontz are all listed as questionable due to injuries. Freshman Jerand Bradley and sophomore Trey Cleveland will play big roles as they step into Ezukanma’s role.
Pay attention to the focus and organization of the Tech offense. It hasn’t been mentioned yet but the Raiders have had a roller-coaster 2021 campaign. To summarize, they lost their first starting QB, Tyler Shough, after four games. Then Henry Colombi took over the reins. Then athletic director Kirby Hocutt fired head coach Matt Wells and put in Sonny Cumbie as the interim coach. Then Colombi went down and Smith took over. Then Joey McGuire was named the future head coach.
For this Liberty Bowl, Tech will have five coaches who are immediately heading elsewhere after the game. Cumbie will be joined at Louisiana Tech with current assistant Jake Brown, Keith Patterson will take over as head coach at FCS Abiliene Christian, Derek Jones is heading for an assistant position at Virginia Tech and Joel Filani is heading to Washington State. Essentially, this bowl situation for the coaches is a hot mess.
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
Well there is no mystery to Leach's Air Raid offense, they are going to whip out that big right arm of quarterback Will Rogers and let him drop dimes all over the opposing defense. Rogers has thrown 630 passes this season and completed 473 of them, good for an astounding 75.1 percent completion rate. He piled up 4,449 yards, 35 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. It is almost surprising that he didn’t get more Heisman love. Of course, when you’re playing in the shadow of Bryce Young and Matt Corral, that will happen.
And it is no surprise that the Bulldogs' passing game is one of the nation’s best, averaging 385.5 yards per game (good for third nationally), while Tech's pass defense is one of the nation's worst, giving up 266.4 yards per game and ranking at No. 117 in the FBS. That’s a bad omen in this game for Double T.
On the opposite side keep an eye on Tech linebacker Colin Schooler, who needs just two solo tackles to move into the top five in NCAA FBS history. He currently sits sixth on the list with 307 solo stops in his career. Only two current Red Raiders were on the squad the last time they went to a bowl game as cornerback DaMarcus Fields and linebacker Riko Jeffers both got the start as freshmen in the 2017 Birmingham Bowl and made four and three tackles, respectively.
Texas Tech interim head coach Sonny Cumbie once played for Mike Leach back in 2004 in Lubbock. In fact, he led the nation in passing that season. But now he’ll try to beat Leach and Co. before he heads off to Louisiana Tech to become their full-time head coach. Weird, I know.
Anyway, I’ll keep it really simple here; State has the better team, the better roster, the stable coaching staff, and their coach is still pissed at the other sideline. This one is an easy call.
Prediction: Mississippi State 52, Texas Tech 28
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.