Ranking best plays Mississippi State football's Mike Leach received in warfare class

Stefan Krajisnik
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE — There could be a formation with only the center on the offensive line. There could be a play where there are two offensive lines, for all intents and purposes. There might even be a play where four receivers line up in the backfield.

Mississippi State football fans want to see coach Mike Leach open up the playbook and his creative mind. They got a glimpse of it when he ran a trick play at Vanderbilt last season, allowing wide receiver Jaden Walley to complete a 13-yard pass, but there hasn’t been much wacky on the play sheet since.

The opportunity is there, perhaps in MSU’s upcoming bowl game, to get crazy if Leach elects to dust off his teaching files.

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During his tenure at Washington State, Leach joined former Washington state senate member Michael Baumgartner to teach a class titled, "Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategy," and it was everything you'd expect from a Leach-led class.

Baumgartner, who had served as a state department officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during the Iraq Surge in 2007, lectured about war tactics. Leach explained how those tactics applied to his football mind and the Air Raid offense.

The class made its Starkville debut in April, and students were given the same assignment from years past. Leach wanted them to invent a play and give a reasoning behind it using war tactics. The plays submitted by MSU students weren’t great, but the collection Leach has built through the years is vast.

MSU inside receivers coach Drew Hollingshead, who worked under Leach at WSU, says they’ve never run a play that was submitted in a game. However, he says some may have been practiced.

We ranked the top three that Leach should consider putting to use.

Mississippi State headcCoach Mike Leach during the Insurgent Warfare and Football Strategy Class at the Old Main Auditorium on the campus of Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS.

'A football play'

Matt Stiger, a student of Leach’s a WSU, lacked creativity with the name but not the play.

In this play, Stiger assigned two tackles, a center and a wide receiver to line up on the left hash ahead of the quarterback.

On the right hash, two more wide receivers (a Y-receiver and Z-receiver) forms another blocking unit with two guards in between. The Y-receiver lines up behind the wall with the running back beside him. It sets up a screen pass to the running back, but instead of waiting for blocks, he’s given a de facto offensive line leading the way.

The Y-wide receiver comes in motion before the snap, which could give the quarterback the option to throw to him if defenders are cheating toward the running back.

'Alright, Well, See Ya Later!'

John Menard, who worked with Stiger, had some more creativity to the play’s name.

Menard also elected to split the offensive line. With the play in the middle of the field, only the center will remain in normal position. Three quarterbacks set up in a triangle behind center.

A tackle and a guard are assigned to each side of the field, with a wide receiver on the outside. A running back lines up behind the tackle-guard-receiver combination on the left side.

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach reacts to a play during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. LSU won 31-16. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)

The play is designed for variability. The center can snap to ball to any of the three quarterbacks. The quarterbacks can throw a screen pass to receivers on either side. However, the play’s main target is a jet sweep to the running back from left to right.

The play does have a flaw, though. Only the center is protecting the quarterback. If the screen passes are blown up, the quarterback will have to immediately scramble or the play could result in an easy sack.

'Play Design 2'

A group of Austin Anderson, Gabe Arguinchona, Riley Hougan, David Winsor and Nick Ziegelmann elected to go with little name creativity. However, the Wazzu students created an interesting pre-snap scheme.

This offensive line is positioned as normal.

The quarterback lines up in shotgun with a running back behind him. Two wide receivers stand on either side of the quarterback, meaning the quarterback is surrounded on each side except for in front of him to field the snap.

Just before the snap, a play is called. The wide receivers sprint out to a typical formation. This provides the quarterback a chance to immediately see what scheme a defense is running and quickly snap the ball to catch the opposition on its heels.

Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at skrajisnik@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @skrajisnik3.