Football was back in Tiger Stadium on Saturday, for better and for worse. Restricted capacity. A new quarterback. Youth on both sides of the ball. And a game day atmosphere that felt anything but normal.
If the game and the occasion looked like something you’ve never seen before, it’s probably because you haven’t. LSU’s 44-34 defeat to Mississippi State was, like the year it falls in, something impossible to foresee.
At the same time, it pointed out the obvious – the things that need fixing, and the things that still work.
LSU’s offense had equal parts both. The Tigers struggled to move the ball in the first half, but they adjusted in the second.
After a sluggish start, the Tigers went tempo on most of their drives after halftime, trusted quarterback Myles Brennan to go deep, and gave more carries to all three of their backs – nearly sparking a comeback in the process. It wasn’t enough to get a win, but it might be enough to build on moving forward.
“We knew that we needed big plays,” said Brennan, who finished 27-for-46 for 345 yards and three touchdowns, completing passes to nine different receivers.
“Big plays fueled emotion in this game. It was time for the offense to start clicking, and I feel like we did in the second half.”
There were big plays from LSU’s perspective, particularly after halftime. Down by 10, with momentum quickly shifting in Mississippi State’s favor, Elias Ricks snagged his first interception of his career.
It allowed LSU to score a touchdown, force a fumble and kick a field goal to tie it in a span of just 1:24. With the score level at 34 and the crowd of just over 20,000 fired up, the noise in Tiger Stadium felt normal – for a nanosecond.
LSU couldn’t sustain that pressure, something they struggled to contain all night. Ed Orgeron said the main issues on offense started with protecting Brennan, catching passes and sustaining drives.
But with 425 yards of total offense, a quarterback that showed improvement and a group of players that found a rhythm the longer the game continued, there are signs of something special, beneath the mistakes and inexperience.
“I think all of our young guys played well,” Brennan added. “This is big-time football, and the freshmen were sent to the fire the first game. There’s a lot to learn and correct and we’re going to be able to do that.
“I think we’re going to be just fine looking forward.”
New faces also meant new opportunity. Jaray Jenkins established himself as a go-to target for Brennan on Saturday with five receptions and 85 yards. Freshman tight end Arik Gilbert looked the part in his first collegiate appearance, recording four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown.
“I loved it,” Orgeron said of Jenkins. “I thought Jaray had a good camp. I’m proud of him. He had a good game. I think that he’s going to continue to get better.”
Terrace Marshall Jr. also proved why he’s one of the top receivers in the nation, reeling in eight catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns. One thing held true about Marshall in the passing game: Throw him a deep ball, and six points is inevitable. Hold his arm, and he’ll still catch it with one.
The defense generated pressure, piling up five sacks, seven tackles for loss, and forcing four turnovers – one of which, a second quarter Jabril Cox pick-six – put points on the board. The performance of Ali Gaye served as a other bright spot for the defense.
The JUCO transfer at defensive end was disruptive all day, recording three tackles and his first sack as a Tiger. Cox, meanwhile, had six tackles, a sack and the interception.
But it wasn’t enough to undo 632 yards of offense surrendered, including an SEC-record 623 passing yards for State quarterback KJ Costello.
“It’s embarrassing,” Stevens said. “It’s like going into a boxing ring and getting knocked out. It’s not a good feeling. Yes, we do pride ourselves on being DBU, but DBU didn’t show up today.”
“They beat us,” Orgeron added. “We have no excuse. When we don’t win, I tell [the team] to put it on me. We couldn’t stay with their guys. Just way too many mistakes.”
It was atypical of LSU, which lost for the first time in more than 600 days. That’s because a lot has changed in those 600 days – in football and outside of it.
If the long wait for football taught this team anything, though, it’s that things can change in a hurry.
One week? That’s what LSU will get, and it will be enough. But there’s no time to waste.
“Losing sucks,” Brennan said. “No one wants to lose. But we can’t blame anybody. Fix our mistakes and move forward. Point, blank, period.”
— Harrison Valentine, LSU Athletics Communications