No. 6 LSU entered Death Valley on Saturday afternoon in its first game since winning the national championship with the goal of proving to the world that there wouldn't be a big drop off despite massive roster and coaching turnover. The Tigers left with their tails between their legs as the first defending champion to lose its next game since Michigan in 1998.
Mississippi State steamrolled LSU 44-34 in a game that saw Bulldogs quarterback KJ Costello set SEC records against a defense that had no answers for him. Costello was 36 of 60 for 623 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Those 623 yards set a single-game SEC record and made Costello the first quarterback in league history to top a 600-yard mark. It was the 11th-most yards passing registered in FBS history.
Three different players had more than 100 receiving yards for the Bulldogs with Osirus Mitchell (183, two touchdowns) leading the way. Costello hit Mitchell for a 24-yard score with 3:39 to play, pushing Mississippi State's lead to 10 points and essentially ice the game. MSU's running backs carried the ball just 10 times in the game for a net of nine yards (thanks to multiple Costello sacks), though star rusher Kylin Hill had 192 total yards with a receiving touchdown.
LSU quarterback Myles Brennan, in his first game as a starter, was no slouch with 345 yards, three touchdowns and two picks on 27 of 46 passing. Leading receiver Terrance Marshall Jr. caught eight of those passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Here are the top four takeaways from Mississippi State's big win over LSU.
1. Costello isn't just a system QB, he's a star
It's easy to say that any quarterback in Mike Leach's offense will be successful. After all, most of them have. But Costello wasn't a product of the system on Saturday afternoon in Death Valley -- the system thrived because of the product that Costello provided.
It doesn't matter what system a quarterback is in. Costello was money over the middle, across the field and, most importantly, deep downfield to wide receivers in stride nearly every time. They call third down the "money down." Well, Costello was 7-of-11 for 194 yards on third down. That'll do nicely.
It's one thing for a quarterback in a Leach system to put up video game numbers in the Pac-12 or Big 12. It's an entirely different thing to do it in the SEC against the defending national champions. Get used to Costello's name being included in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
2. Leach's system works in the SEC after all
If you read my prediction story from earlier this week, you know that I doubted whether Leach's system -- which spreads everybody out all over the field -- would work in the SEC considering the size and speed that exists along defensive lines in the conference. I was wrong … way wrong. Mississippi State is going to make opposing defensive coordinators sweat all season long.
Costello's performance was great. Perhaps more important (or equality important) is the fact that he did so with a receiving corps that was severely lacking in experience. Osirus Mitchell, the leading receiver from last year, is essentially the only experienced receiver on the roster. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior had seven catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He was one of three players who topped the 100-yard mark receiving, joining running back Kylin Hill (158 yards) and Javonta Payton (122 yards).
Color me shocked.
There's an old adage that says, in order to win, teams have to run the ball and play defense. Well, the team that only had 9 rushing yards and gave up 34 points is the same team that not only beat the defending national champions, but dominated the game from start to finish.
3. Myles Brennan isn't a championship-caliber QB
It's totally unfair to compare anybody to Joe Burrow. However, it is fair to state what his successor looks like one game into an abbreviated 10-game conference-only season. Brennan doesn't have it.
The junior never settled in, couldn't feel pressure and had an internal clock that seemed to be off by a second or two all afternoon. His offensive line didn't help, of course; he was running for his life. He struggled to keep his eyes downfield and looked like a deer in headlights for the majority of the first half. That changed a little bit in the second half when the LSU running game got going a little bit, but when Mississippi State adjusted and loaded up to stop Chris Curry and Co., Brennan couldn't shoulder the load like Burrow did.
High standards … but also problematic. Defense doesn't win championships. "Just enough" defense wins championships. Quarterbacks have to be difference-makers. Brennan looked like an average-at-best passer on Saturday. With a conference loss on the resume, LSU's margin for error just got razor thin. Brennan is going to have to grow up in a hurry.
4. Stingley's absence meant very little
The biggest storyline Saturday morning was the news that star LSU defensive back Derek Stingley, Jr., was hospitalized Friday night due to a non-COVID-19 illness. It's easy to say that Costello's success through the air was, at least in part, due to his absence. Nah, don't use that excuse. Costello flat out owned the Tigers secondary all afternoon. One player -- even a great one like Stingley -- wouldn't have changed that.
Aside from Jabril Cox's pick-six in the second quarter, LSU's linebackers were nowhere to be found. The passes deep downfield will make the highlights, but Costello's work over the middle, especially in the first half, softened up that defense before Costello really started dealing.
LSU fans, tip your hat to Costello. Don't put this loss on Stingley's absence.