LSU’s opened its national championship defense with a dud, getting blitzkrieged by the new-look Mississippi State air raid offense 44-34 Saturday afternoon in Tiger Stadium.
It was a funky game, fitting of the disjointed offseason the college football world endured over the summer. Here’s a rundown of those who played well and not so well in the 2020 season opener.
Winner: Jacoby Stevens
Stevens wore the coveted No. 7 with pride, picking up six tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, forced a fumble and recovered two more. Some of the best No. 7’s have been donned by Tiger defensive backs, and Stevens looked positively Tyrann Mathieu-esque Saturday afternoon.
LSU’s claim to the “DBU” moniker took a hit Saturday after Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello threw for an SEC-record 623 yards and five touchdowns. Coming into the game, Ed Orgeron said LSU was “a little thin” at corner and that was only exacerbated when it was announced around 10:30 Saturday morning that All-American corner Derek Stingley Jr. would not play after being hospitalized Friday night. LSU reported Stingley was acutely ill and it’s believed he had an allergic reaction to something.
So LSU had to face Mike Leach’s renowned Air Raid offense without the best defensive back in America and the ensuing pass defense was historically bad. Three different Mississippi State players had over 100 yards receiving with Osirus Mitchell leading the way, grabbing seven balls for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Cordale Flott, Elias Ricks, Jay Ward, and Darren Evans all took turns getting worked as Costello and State picked apart the secondary with crossing route after crossing route. Todd Harris also whiffed on a tackle attempt on Bulldog running back Kylin Hill, who scored a 75-yard touchdown on a wheel route. Why LSU insisted on playing man while State kept going to the man-beating crossing routes is beyond me, but hopefully Stingley returns next week against Vanderbilt and helps the secondary go from “literally the worst in SEC history” to “fine.”
Winner: Ali Gaye
One of the biggest questions about LSU was who can the Tigers count on to get pressure off the edge. Consider that question answered, as JUCO transfer Ali Gaye had himself a hell of a debut with three tackles, two for loss and a sack and used his 6’6” frame to bat down three balls at the line of scrimmage.
Loser: Offensive Line
Even though the LSU’s trio of running backs—Chris Curry, Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery—combined for 117 yards on 27 carries (4.3 yards per carry) the line couldn’t consistently open holes for the backs and the unit looked out of sync against State’s funky 3-3-5 defense.
And, oh yeah, the whole allowing seven sacks thing. Now some of those sacks were definitely on Myles Brennan holding the ball too long, but the line needs to get more cohesion before the Tigers make their trip to The Swamp in three weeks.
Winner: Jabril Cox
If you had Cox scoring LSU’s first touchdown of the year then congratulations!
Cox did it all for LSU: six tackles, a sack, a TFL and that aforementioned pick-six. Cox could have been a top-100 pick had he declared for the NFL Draft, but deciding to transfer to LSU may ultimately catapult him into a first round pick next April.
Loser: Bo Pelini
Pelini got a $2.3 million contract to return to LSU and his defense allowed a new SEC record for passing yards in his first game back. So not exactly a great start. Never mind the fact that Mississippi State was 8-16 on third downs and converted on third down distances of 13, 20, 11, 10 and 9 yards. State’s average distance to go on third down was 9.6 yards and the Bulldogs were 5-9 on those instances.
But what’s especially concerning is the Tiger defense sacked Costello five times, forced four turnovers and still lost by ten points at home against what was supposedly a roster with inferior talent.
Winner: Jaray Jenkins
Jenkins caught as many passes today, five, as he did all of 2019. Sure Terrace Marshall was the leading receiver and Arik Gilbert flashed some of that five-star potential, but let’s give it up for the senior wide receiver who had the best game of his LSU career Saturday afternoon.