Mississippi State football upsets #6 LSU in Death Valley

What a welcome to Starkville for Mike Leach and K.J. Costello.

Death Valley may be the place dreams go to die, but its where dreams were made for Mississippi State football this Saturday as they upset the defending national champion LSU Tigers 44-34.

Mike Leach described the day afterward as “better than average,” but we’re not being modest over here because that was an incredible win for the Bulldogs - record-setting win in fact.

Stanford transfer quarterback K.J. Costello not only made his debut for the maroon and white but made Mississippi State and SEC football history throughout the day. Costello broke the Mississippi State single-game passing record, surpassing Dak Prescott’s 508 yards passing yards against Arkansas back in 2015. That wasn’t enough for Costello though because he decided he needed to break the SEC single-game passing record by throwing for 623 yards passing. Costello capped off his absolutely incredible debut for the Bulldogs with five touchdowns, including the win-sealing touchdown to Senior Osirus Mitchell. This game marked Costello’s ninth career game with three-plus touchdown passes.

“I had a hell of a career at Stanford, it didn’t end the way I wanted it to. All of a sudden I’m from California out to Mississippi, been out here two and a half or three months since June 1,” said quarterback K.J. Costello after the game. “I remember every single day since I’ve been out here man. I had the craziest offseason of my career after playing for 16 or 17 years. I had to rehab. I couldn’t throw a ball a year ago today. For a while, I didn’t know what was next and I left some of my best friends at Stanford. For these guys to embrace me the way they have. I know a lot of guys look at the quarterback as the guy that inspires everybody else but these guys have inspired me the second I got here.”

The Costello to Mitchell connection should already give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares as they connected for seven receptions 183 yards and two touchdowns. Three separate Mississippi State players finished with over 120-plus receiving yards in the game.

All-American running back Kylin Hill was convinced to opt back into the 2020 season because head coach Mike Leach told him that he could finish with 2,000 total yards this season. After one game he is already on pace. Hill finished the game with only seven carries for 34 yards rushing but was a monster in the passing game finishing first on the team in receptions with eight and second with 158 yards receiving and one touchdown. Hill proved no matter how you get him the ball, he is a threat on every play. There was cause for concern for Hill as he left to the locker room with 8:18 left in the third quarter, but there was no worry after his first play back on the field resulted in a huge 75-yard receiving touchdown.

There seemed to be numerous communication issues between Mississippi State center Cole Smith and Costello which lead to a couple of bad snaps and even a snapped ball when Costello wasn’t looking which resulted in an LSU fumble recovery.

The Mississippi State offense has been the focal point of many throughout the offseason, but it was the defense that starred early for the Bulldogs. The LSU offense struggled early only garnering 146 total yards and went 1-6 on third downs in the first half. You could even say the MVP for LSU in the first half was punter Zach Von Rosenburg with four punts downed inside the 20.

The Mississippi State offense was quite the contrary in the first half as they garnered over 300 total yards and dominated time of possession with more than nine minutes more than LSU. Also in what is an almost unheard of success rate for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs went 6-12 on third down attempts. The Bulldogs finished ninth in the SEC last year in third-down conversion percentage with a 37.23% success rate.

The first half was a surprisingly defensive game but the halftime speeches must have worked because the offensives sure woke up after the half. Not a single punt was kicked in the third quarter as both teams combined for 20 points.

LSU quarterback Myles Brennan made his first start since high school, which could be seen in his struggles in the first half, but Brennan came into his own in the third quarter as he lead the Tiger offense down the field to score 10 points on the opening two drives. Unfortunately for Brennan, the Bulldogs pass rush was relentless all game finishing with seven sacks. Mississippi State linebacker Jordan Davis made one of the biggest plays of the game in the third quarter when he hit Brennan’s elbow on a throw that resulted in an easy interception for cornerback Esaias Furdge.

However, turnovers almost brought the Tigers back in the fourth quarter. Early in his Stanford career, the biggest criticism of Costello was his turnover tendency and this bug seemed to once again resurface here late against LSU. Costello threw an interception, resulting in an LSU touchdown, and then on the very next play fumbled on a scramble, resulting in a game-tying field goal for the Tigers. Luckily for the Bulldogs, on the next offensive drive, a very controversial call was made where the refs overturned a Costello fumble saying that his arm was moving forward. The call not only saved Costello from committing his fifth turnover of the game but lead to a later field goal to take the lead and was a huge momentum shift for Mississippi State.

In the end, the Bulldogs didn’t even run the ball as the golden arm of Costello lead them to victory. The win against LSU is momentous in numerous ways. LSU’s 16 game winning streak was the longest active streak in the nation, Mississippi State only had two wins against LSU since 2000, and the Bulldogs had a 5-10 record versus AP Top 10 teams since 2014. To further the point Mississippi State was 1-13 against AP Top 10 on the road since 1996, their lone win was against LSU in 2014.

That all changes now with a historic win for new head coach Mike Leach. A win against No. 6 LSU marks Leach’s seventh career win against a Top 10 team.

“I’m really proud of our guys. I thought we played real well. I thought we stuck in there during tough times”, Leach said after the game. Leach also joked that they played LSU because, “New England, Green Bay, and the Chiefs already had somebody scheduled.”

If that’s the case it looks like the Bulldogs weren’t able to get on any of their schedules next week either as Mississippi State will prepare for battle against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Oct. 3 in Starkville. Mississippi State has won three in a row against Arkansas. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.

Photo courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications