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LSU’s loss to MSU could spell trouble in the SEC West

What a difference a year makes.

In 2019, LSU beat Mississippi State 36-13 in Starkville. The Tigers gained 413 yards and allowed just 340.

Eleven months later, with the vast majority of LSU’s starting lineup from 2019 now in the NFL, it was a far different story in Baton Rouge.

Behind Stanford transfer QB KJ Costello and the Air Raid offense of new head coach Mike Leach, the Bulldogs rolled up 632 yards of offense on the Tigers in a 44-34 win. 

And LSU could muster just 425 on 84 plays, good for 5.1 per play.

Gone is Joe Burrow. Gone are offensive linemen Saahdiq Charles, Adrian Magee, Lloyd Cushenberry III, and Damien Lewis. Receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, along with tight end Thaddeus Moss, are no longer with the Tigers. And neither is running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Most are in the NFL.

A drop-off had to be expected on offense for the Tigers, but 5.1 yards per play against a Mississippi State defense which wasn’t good in 2019 and didn’t return that much? That’s tough, as LSU will face a lot of better defenses this season playing in the SEC.

New QB Myles Brennan threw 46 times for 345 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. But little about the passing offense looked crisp. Brennan was late at times, and other times there were miscommunications with new pass rushers, including true freshman receiver Kayshon Boutte and tight end Arik Gilbert. It didn’t look that bad for a college offense, but it looked jarring when compared to LSU’s 2019 attack, which was arguably the best college offense of all time.

Pass protection against Mississippi State’s front was also an issue, as LSU surrendered seven sacks for negative 45 yards.

But a bigger concern might be the LSU defense. Coordinator Dave Aranda is now the head coach of Baylor. The new coordinator is Bo Pelini. But it’s not clear how well Aranda’s unit would have done with this new personnel. Gone are Glen Logan, Tyler Shelvon, Rashard Lawrence, Breiden Fehoko, K’Lavon Chaisson, Patrick Queen, Jacob Phillips, Kristian Fulton, and Grant Delpit. And star cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. did not play due to an illness.

LSU’s new crew defense was no match for a Mississippi State offense which itself was installing a radically new scheme.

Mississippi State’s Costello threw 60 times for 623 yards and five touchdowns. The Bulldogs had 15 passes of 20+ yards and seven of those were for 30+.

Costello has always had immense talent. He was the No. 47 overall player in the 247Sports Composite out of high school in the class of 2016. But he never put up numbers like this in the Stanford offense. He’ll face far tougher challenges than this new-faced LSU defense, but it’s safe to say that he aced his first test.

LSU might improve a ton from Game 1 to Game 2. And anything can happen in this wildly unpredictable, COVID-impacted 2020 season, but unless LSU improves a ton from Game 1 to Game 2, or Mississippi State is a lot better than I realize, the Tigers are not going to be much of a threat in the SEC West.

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