It's a feeling that LSU football hasn't felt in nearly two years: the Tigers suffered their first loss since November 2018 through an offensive explosion of epic proportions on behalf of the Mississippi State offense. With K.J. Costello's SEC record 623 passing yards and inconsistent play across the board, there are many takeaways from Week 1.
Here are three of the big ones from Saturday's season opening loss.
LSU Secondary Needs to "Lick Its Wounds," and Fast
LSU has proclaimed itself DBU for a number of years because of its elite play out of the secondary. But on Saturday, it was nowhere to be found. Time and time again, Bulldog quarterback K.J. Costello took advantage of an inexperienced, youthful secondary without Derek Stingley Jr.
It was called inexcusable and embarrassing after the game by LSU safety JaCoby Stevens, who said it's important not to point the finger at the players but rather the problem. The problems were multiple for the LSU secondary as busted coverages, missed tackles and inexperience all played major factors.
Coach Ed Orgeron said in the postgame interviews that Jay Ward hadn't practiced hardly at all in two weeks and was forced into playing most of the second half. Senior transfer Darren Evans, who was brought in just a few weeks ago to fill depth needs, was scorched in the first half by just being out of position.
"Welcome to the SEC, gotta get better," Orgeron said. "This is elite and you gotta win your one-on-ones. Anybody you play on any given day has athletes across the field and we've gotta cover them.
"Some of the young guys who haven't played a bunch, I think are going to be really good football players but have to get experience."
Some of the problems can be fixed in practice. LSU will likely be doing its fair share of tackling drills but some of it is also due to scheme. Orgeron said the team will have to look at the film but that man coverage was a problem for them that is just not simple to fix in season.
Stingley, when he returns, will help with one side of the field, but Coradle Flott and Eli Ricks and the younger cornerbacks were beat consistently throughout the night. Orgeron said if the move is to play more zone than man-to-man coverage, the team is willing to move in that direction.
"We've got a lot of football left, I still believe we have a very good football team, a lot of young guys who played for the first time," Orgeron said. "We have to look at why we had some missed assignments and what caused them. Too many guys were running free. We have to look back and see if we can cover man-to-man. If we can't, we should make the decision to play zone."
After Slow Start, Myles Brennan Found His Groove
There were inconsistencies with LSU's offense on Saturday night. But that was to be expected with Terrace Marshall and Austin Deculus being the only full-time starters from a season ago. Now, the start of the game was unexpected, something that Orgeron and Brennan both admitted in postgame interviews.
The Tigers were held to 146 yards of total offense and seven points in the first half. Those numbers rose to 279 in the second half due to more of a focus on the run game and simply guys getting open.
"We started slow as an offense," Brennan said. "Execution all around the board just wasn't there. We started slow and got going in the second half, but I'd say we need to start a little bit quicker."
That was the main issue in the first half. Brennan, even when forced out of the pocket, had time to throw the ball but there was rarely anybody to throw to. In order to send the starters a message, Jaray Jenkins, Jontre Kirklin and Trey Palmer were the receivers LSU went with on the first drive of the second half.
The drive stymied with a field goal but did seem to wake up the starters a bit. Terrace Marshall turned in a great outing of eight catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Arik Gilbert had four grabs for 37 yards and a touchdown. Even Jenkins had a solid day of work with five receptions for 85 yards.
"I think all of our young guys played really well. This is big-time football and the freshmen were sent to the fire the first game," Brennan said. "Obviously there's a lot to learn and a lot to correct and we're going to be able to do that. I think we're going to be just fine looking forward."
Brennan went for 345 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions he'll want back, but two years ago, this is the kind of overall performance LSU fans dreamed of him having. He dropped two beautifully placed touchdowns to Marshall in this game as a reminder of his immense potential.
Front Seven Applied the Pressure in Forcing Four Turnovers
Among all of the negatives to take away on the defensive side of the ball, there were some positives, mainly in the pressure applied up front by the defensive front seven. Costello was sacked five times and the run game was non-existent (mainly because it didn't need to be).
Jabril Cox made an early impact with a pick-six. Ricks redeemed himself with an interception in the third quarter. Costello was stripped by JaCoby Stevens, marking a critical turning point in the Tigers' comeback effort. Ali Gaye was a force in the backfield, racking up three tackles and three pass breakups.
These are all things the team can grow on as the season progresses. The loss was unexpected but it’s also important that the Tigers learn exponentially from Saturday’s outcome.
"I think we did some really good things on defense," Orgeron said. "Pressuring the quarterback and I thought our pass rush was good. Ali Gaye had some batted balls and pressure on the quarterback. That's what we've been seeing all preseason."