Mike Leach has dazzling SEC debut as Mississippi State coach as Bulldogs top No. 5 LSU

You asked, Mike Leach delivered.

The question was whether Leach could implement the Air Raid offense at a place like Mississippi State, where running the football has been as much of a cultural identity item as the shrimp gumbo you can find at plenty of eateries around Tiger Stadium.

The knee-jerk answer is yes.

Mississippi State shredded No. 5 LSU through the air in a 44-34 upset victory Saturday afternoon. The only things that died in Death Valley was the old way of the Bulldogs operating an offense and perhaps LSU's chances of defending its national championship.

"We played together as a team," Leach said. "We didn't play perfect. We weren't necessarily consistent, but we did play together. Kept pushing one another. We never emotionally backed off our focus to go out there and play." 

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach hugs safety Marcus Murphy after the Bulldogs beat No. 5 LSU. (Photo: Gerald Herbert, AP)

In his first game with Mississippi State, K.J. Costello, a graduate transfer from Stanford, broke the school's single-game passing yards record. Dak Prescott threw for 509 yards against Arkansas in 2015. Costello shattered the standard with a staggering 623 yards by completing 36-of-60 his attempts.

He also broke the SEC’s mark too, passing ]Georgia’s Eric Zeier, whose record of 544 passing yards stood since 1993. A new day has donned in the SEC. Costello couldn't quite fathom it in his post-game press conference. 

"I don't know if any individual could visualize this taking place," he said. 

It wasn’t all good for Costello, however

His first interception of the day was a pick-six that gave LSU a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. His second set up the Tigers to score three plays later. LSU cut the Mississippi State lead to 34-31 with junior quarterback Myles Brennan’s 33 yard pass to junior wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr.

On Mississippi State’s next drive, Costello fumbled in his own territory. LSU recovered and tied the game at 34 with a field goal shortly thereafter. Costello nearly gave the ball away on Mississippi State’s ensuing possession but his fumble was ruled an incomplete pass after review.

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All things considered, Leach liked the way Costello played. 

"I thought his composure in this game was outstanding," Leach said. "We had our share of adversity and just slugged through it. Everybody was in there and stuck with one another." 

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Zach Arnett said the strength of his defense would have to be the experience on the line and in the linebacking corps.

His players proved him right.

Mississippi State put constant pressure on Brennan, who was making his first career start. The Bulldogs racked up seven sacks and were largely responsible for the Tigers managing to success on just 5-of-17 third-down conversions.

Senior defensive end Marquiss Spencer led the way with two sacks. Senior linebacker Erroll Thompson and junior linebacker Tyrus Wheat had one, and senior defensive end Kobe Jones and sophomore Nathan Pickering combined on one to register half a sack each. 

Sophomores Aaron Brule and Jaden Crumedy also had a sack apiece. 

"It's the heart," Brule said. "People like Kobe Jones, Erroll. They lead everybody. I follow them. As much as I'd love to be a leader, I love to lead, but I follow those guys that have been here the longest. 

Costello couldn’t shatter records without capable wide receivers to throw to. He had plenty of them Saturday.

Three different Bulldogs posted 100 or more receiving yards. Seniors Osirus Mitchell and JaVonta Payton led the wideouts with seven catches for 183 yards and six receptions for 122 yards, respectively.

Senior running back Kylin Hill was as advertised out of the backfield with eight catches for 158 yards, including a 75 yard touchdown on a one-play possession that gave Mississippi a 27-24 lead in the third quarter.

Ten different Bulldogs caught passes  – even sophomore offensive lineman Kwatrivous Johnson. Yes, Johnson caught a ball batted down at the line of scrimmage to get his name in the box score.

"We knew this was the type of offense we were going to have just from the practices, all the workouts we had, how everybody bought in," Mitchell said. "So we knew it was going to be something special." 

The win was the third for the Bulldogs in the last 30 years in Death Valley. Prescott led the program to a victory in Baton Rouge in 2014. The Bulldogs last notched a win at Tiger Stadium in 1991 before that.

"The coaches around the facility were playing that video of Dak like all week," Mitchell said. 

Only 21,124 people were on hand to see the upset because of COVID-19 restrictions. Had Death Valley been at full capacity, maybe it would have been a different story. But the Bulldog don’t control what happens off the field. They can only control what happens on it.

And boy did they ever do that.

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