Josh Heupel will have more success on offense at Tennessee than Mike Leach will have at Mississippi State.
How can I make that prediction?
How can I draw that conclusion given Leach’s long-term offensive success?
Leach did have great offensive production at Texas Tech and Washington State, but he did it against relatively weak defenses.
And while the SEC hasn’t exactly been comparable to the Steel Curtain in recent years, it does play better defense than the Pac 12 or Big 12.
There is also a philosophical difference in the Heupel v. Leach approach.
Last year, Central Florida ran the football on 51% of its snaps and averaged 568 yards per game, which led the nation in the FBS for teams that played at least five games.
Last year, Leach’s first as an SEC head coach, Mississippi State rushers (not counting quarterback sacks or sneaks) had eight games where 12 or fewer run plays were called and eight games with less than 50 rushing yards – six with less than 35 rushing yards. And, again, that doesn’t count sack or sneaks.
And while the Knights were averaging 568 total yards last year, Mississippi State was averaging 304 to rank 104th in the nation. That’s a whopping difference of 264 yards per game.
In Heupel’s three years, Central Florida averaged 265 and 224 and 211 rush yards per game. At Missouri, the Tigers averaged 205 rush yards in 2016 and 193 in 2017.
Last year, Mississippi State averaged 43.9 rush yards per game, last in the SEC by 65 yards per game, and 2.4 yards per carry. And it’s not because the Bulldogs didn’t have a standout running back. Kylin Hill ran for 1,350 yards in 2019. Leach seemed to cast Hill aside like he was a high school sophomore.
The Bulldogs did have some big offensive games against LSU (44 points) and Missouri (51 points), but the offense was ineffective in many games. State was shutout by Alabama and got two points against Kentucky. It scored 14 or fewer points in five games. It scored more than 24 in two games.
While Central Florida’s strength of schedule isn’t SEC caliber, the Knights in recent years did scored 49 against Georgia Tech and 45 against Pitt – two Power 5 schools. They also beat Auburn 34-27 in the Peach Bowl and lost 40-32 to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl, the year before the Tigers won the national title.
Heupel has just three years of head coaching experience, but he was an offensive coordinator for highly successful Oklahoma teams and he has brought – in my opinion – an impressive offensive staff to Rocky Top.
I don’t know which Tennessee quarterback will win the job this fall, and I don’t know if UT will have enough offensive linemen to pass block with proficiency, but the fact that Heupel has scored plenty of points against Power 5 teams and puts a focus on running the football makes me believe he will have more productive offenses at Tennessee than Leach at Mississippi State.