The storyline had an all-too-familiar ring to it.
A once-proud program looking for help on offense secures the talent of a graduate transfer quarterback looking to make his mark in the Southeastern Conference.
Mississippi State liked the direction LSU went signing of Joe Burrow two years ago, a move that helped result in the Tigers’ 2019 national championship. The Bulldogs went a similar route by bringing graduate transfer K.J. Costello, who had 25 starts to his credit at Stanford.
Costello put on a record-setting performance, including an SEC single-game passing yardage record of 623 yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 44-34 upset Saturday afternoon in Tiger Stadium over No. 5 ranked LSU in the season opener for both teams.
“Embarrassing,” LSU senior safety JaCoby Stevens said describing the play of the Tigers’ secondary. “It’s like going into a boxing ring and getting knocked out. It’s not a good feeling. We do pride ourselves on being DBU, but DBU didn’t show up today.”
LSU’s secondary was dealt a severe blow before the game – a start to the season pushed back four weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic – when the school released a statement that All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. wouldn’t be available because of an ‘acute illness’ he suffered Friday that required hospitalization.
The Tigers found themselves extremely vulnerable with a pair of back-ups with cornerbacks Jay Ward, who recently returned to the team following minor surgery, and graduate transfer Darren Evans, who joined the team three weeks ago after transferring from FCS school Nicholls State.
“Obviously, when you lose a player like Derek Stingley it really hurt us,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said. “We had to play Jay Ward. He was out for two weeks and didn’t practice much. He had to play most of the game. I think he was a little behind. That’s not his fault, he just wasn’t ready to play. That’s all we had. Darren just came in from Nicholls State. He wasn’t ready to play.”
Costello, who entered Saturday’s game with 6,151 career passing yards, completed 36-of-60 passes for 623 yards, breaking a 27-year record of 544 previously held by Georgia’s Eric Zeier.
Costello became the first player – home or away – in the 96-year history of Tiger Stadium to pass for 500 or more yards.
Running back Kylin Hill caught eight passes for 158 yards and had a 75-yard TD reception late in the third quarter that provided State with a 27-24 lead.
“It’s really high when you consider you’re playing at LSU against the defending national champions,” new Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach said of Costello’s performance. “His composure was outstanding.”
State outgained LSU 632-425 and was particularly sharp on third downs with 8-of-16 conversions, including three scores on third down.
Conversely, LSU became the first defending national champion to lose it season opener since 1998 when Michigan lost to Notre Dame, 36-20. The Tigers also had their nation’s leading 16-game win streak snapped.
“I told them to put it on me,” said Orgeron, whose team trailed 17-14 at halftime after being outgained 292-119. “When they win, I give them the credit. When we lose, I’ve got to take the blame.
“I asked everyone to look at themselves in the mirror, see what we’re doing and let’s get better. Let’s stick together as a team. We’ve got a lot of football left. I believe we have a good football team.”
The four-hour marathon contest, played before a crowd of 21,124 fans – 25 percent of Tiger Stadium’s capacity – featured four of five lead changes in the first half and a pair of ties until Mississippi State repelled LSU down the stretch.
“The Good Lord tested me time and again in the off-season and I really only had one option continue to fight back,” said Costello, who arrived in Starkville on June 1. “A lot of times guys are inspired by the QB. I’m inspired by the work ethic of the guys since I stepped in the building.”
LSU erased a 10-point deficit (34-24) in just over a four-minute stretch of the fourth quarter to pull even with 9:37 remaining on Cade York’s 40-yard field goal.
Freshman cornerback Elias Ricks’ interception – LSU’s second against Costello – led to quarterback Myles Brennan’s 33-yard TD pass to Terrace Marshall Jr. at the 11:01 mark of the fourth.
Brennan wound up completing 27-of-46 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns. He was picked off twice and sacked seven times.
Marshall led the Tigers with eight catches for 122 yards and a pair of TDs, while wide receiver Jaray Jenkins had a breakout game with five catches for 85 yards. Freshman tight end Arik Gilbert added four grabs for 37 yards and a 2-yard TD in the second quarter.
LSU got the ball back for a potential go-ahead touchdown when Stevens recovered his second fumble, this time after a sack on Costello, at State’s 23-yard line before York came on for a tying field goal with 9:37 left.
“That’s why we keep fighting,” Stevens said. “Coach O always says you win the game in the fourth quarter. We kept trying to make plays and put ourselves in position to win the game. Obviously, it didn’t happen. We’ve got to go and look back to see what we can do better earlier in the game, so we don’t get put in those situations anymore.”
State took a 37-34 lead with 7:27 remaining on Brandon Ruiz’s 43-yard field goal and after forcing LSU into a three-and-out, put the game away with 3:39 to go when Costello connected with Osirus Mitchell on a 34-yard TD pass.
“This is ‘Big Boy’ ball,” Brennan said. “It’s going to take a lot of fight and grit from start to finish from the whole team. We’re more than capable of doing that.”