Mississippi State football: 5 takeaways from upset over LSU

mississippi state football

The cowbells are still ringing in Starkville after the Mississippi State football team’s momentous 44-33 upset over the defending national champion No. 6 LSU Tigers. New head coach Mike Leach and quarterback K.J. Costello made their debuts for Mississippi State and the results were better than anyone could’ve predicted. For only the second time since 1992, the Bulldogs walked out of Death Valley with a victory over LSU. Mississippi State ended LSU’s 16-game winning streak, which was the longest active streak in college football.

With a ton to digest, let’s see what the biggest takeaways are from Mississippi State’s biggest upset in years.

Air raid works in SEC

All it took was one game for the air raid offense, led by Costello to break the SEC record for passing yards in a single game with 632. There were communication issues early but after halftime, the offense looked like a well-oiled machine ready to go over the top on every SEC defense unlucky enough to line up against it this season.

“The Pirate,” a nickname given to Leach due to his long-standing fascination with swashbucklers, proved he can be, if he already isn’t, one of the top head coaches in the SEC.

There were a lot of questions throughout the offseason regarding Leach’s high-powered air raid offense. Joining a conference known for its hard-nosed running games and brick wall defenses, Leach has thus far employed a more “if I score more than you I win” philosophy to his teams.

The approach so far seems to be working.

K.J. Costello is the real deal

It takes nothing short of incredible talent and preparation to accomplish what Costello did on Saturday.

Not only in his first game in the SEC but in his first game coming back from an injury-riddled season at Stanford, Costello made Mississippi State and SEC football history. He even accomplished what very few Mississippi State quarterbacks have accomplished by defeating LSU on its home turf.

Costello was money on his deep balls with beautiful over the shoulder throws to Osirus Mitchell and Tyrell Shavers. His accuracy could be seen throughout the game as he finished with an impressive 60% completion percentage considering throwing 60 passes in the game. Costello capped off his record-setting performance by throwing five touchdowns as well.

However, the turnover bug that plagued Costello at Stanford resurfaced again against LSU and nearly cost the Bulldogs the game. Costello’s four turnovers, two of which coming on back to back plays in the fourth quarter, allowed LSU to tie the game late but luckily even in his mistakes, Costello showed his veteran poise by not getting phased and bringing Mississippi State back to win the game.

Mike Leach understands running backs

A lot of the questions surrounding the offense during the offseason revolved around All-American running back Kylin Hill. A lot of those same questions were answered after a stellar individual performance by Hill.

Hill only rushed the ball seven times for 34 yards but had an outstanding eight catches for 158 receiving yards with one touchdown in the passing game. With 192 total yards, Hill is already on pace for the 2,000 total yard season promise by Leach.

In his 18-year career of being a college football head coach, Leach has never had a 1,000-yard rusher in a season. That most likely won’t change this year either, even with as talented of a running back as Hill is.

Hill averaged around 20 touches a game last season, and Leach got him pretty close to that number with 15 touches against LSU. Even with five fewer touches than last year’s average, Hill was able to have a career game as a receiver and managed nearly 200 total yards.

If there were any doubters about whether Leach could make Hill work in the air raid offense, they sure are silent now.

LSU lost too many pieces

Nobody said coming back from winning a championship was easy in college football, but it is especially hard when you come back without 15 starters from a season ago.

Ed Orgeron is a great head coach and fans shouldn’t criticize Coach O too harshly after LSU’s first home opener loss since Troy in 2017. Not only was LSU replacing the majority of its starters but it was also starting a quarterback who hadn’t started a game since his senior year of high school.

Myles Brennan has the potential to be a great quarterback, but he looked completely over his head against the Bulldogs. A constant Mississippi State pass rush didn’t help Brennan, along with multiple easy dropped passes by receivers, but that still doesn’t excuse Brennan for holding the ball too long and failing to come up big in the end.

Mississippi State practically gifted LSU the game when it allowed the Tigers to tie the game off of back-to-back turnovers, but even then LSU couldn’t take the game for themselves, allowing the Bulldogs to celebrate on their own field.

If you’re a transfer QB, go to Mississippi State

Leach proves year after year he doesn’t need a hyped-up, five-star recruit out of high school to run his air raid offense. All he needs is a transfer to break records. In fact, the last three starting quarterbacks for Leach have been transfers.

Leach’s first transfer was the famous mustache of Gardner Minshew. Minshew transferred from East Carolina to Washington State after throwing for 2,180 yards and 16 touchdowns in seven games for the Pirates in 2017. The Leach effect took hold in just a single season as Minshew led the Cougars to an 11-2 record, throwing 4,776 yards passing on his way to winning the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for being the nation’s top senior quarterback. Minshew is currently leading “Minshew Mania” as the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

After Minshew graduated it was Anthony Gordon’s time to shine. Gordon received zero scholarships coming out of high school in California and originally played at the City College of San Francisco. After leading his team to a state community college title in 2015, Gordon spent three years with Leach before becoming the starting quarterback. He shined in his lone season with the Cougars throwing 5,579 yards and 48 touchdowns while leading the country in passing yards per game with 429.2. Gordon set the Washington State and Pac-12 single-season records for passing touchdowns, passing yards, total offense and competitions. Gordon went undrafted and is currently a free agent after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 5.

Now at Mississippi State, it is Stanford graduate transfer Costello’s turn to break records in Leach’s air raid offense. If Week 1 showed us anything, it’s going to be a long season for SEC defensive coordinators.

Photo courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications