Mike Leach spent a decade patrolling the sideline at Texas Tech and overseeing a prolific offense in a tenure that ended controversially.
Leach, now in his second season guiding the Mississippi State program, will oppose his former team in the Liberty Bowl on Tuesday night at Memphis. It will be the first meeting between the schools since 1970.
Leach rose to prominence when he coached at Texas Tech from 2000-09, producing an 84-43 record. He led the Red Raiders to a bowl game in every season, including an upset of Aaron Rodgers and California in the 2004 Holiday Bowl when Sonny Cumbie — now Texas Tech’s interim head coach — was his quarterback.
After being fired from Texas Tech due to misconduct, Leach resurfaced at Washington State from 2012-19 before taking the job at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs finished 7-5 this season, winning four of their final six games after absorbing a 49-9 loss to Alabama on Oct. 16. They knocked off three ranked teams in 2021.
After Mississippi State went 4-7 last season, the Bulldogs improved this year with an offense that averaged 30.9 points per game. They are led by quarterback Will Rogers, who threw for a Southeastern Conference-leading 4,449 yards. Rogers also threw 35 touchdowns, second in the SEC to Heisman winner Bryce Young’s 43, and he never threw for fewer than 294 yards in a game this year.
“I’m the quarterback in this offense for Coach Leach,” Rogers said. “I think that my job is to win games. It’s cool to throw for 500 or 600 yards, but ultimately I get judged and this team gets judged on if we win a game or not.”
Texas Tech (6-6) is playing its final game under Cumbie, who took over for the fired Matt Wells on Oct. 25. Joey McGuire was hired last month to be the Red Raiders’ head coach in 2022, and Cumbie will depart for the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech.
The Red Raiders, who are in a bowl game for the first time since 2017, ended the regular season with four losses in five games.
“Our players, you can’t give them enough credit for everything they’ve gone through for the season,” Cumbie said. “All that is stuff you reflect on after (the Liberty Bowl), and hopefully when you reflect on it (postgame), you’re feeling good about how things went.”
Texas Tech averaged 30 points per game and saw three players split time at quarterback, including Donovan Smith. The freshman will make the start after completing 70 of 111 passes for 929 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions.
Smith will not be throwing to top target Erik Ezukanma, who declared for the NFL draft after totaling 48 receptions for 705 yards and four touchdowns. Ezukanma opted out of the bowl game.
–Field Level Media