No. 1: 2020 Mississippi State football vs. LSU Tigers
There’s only one game that could be #1 on the list, and it’s the very first game Mike Leach coached for Mississippi State. There was a ton of excitement when Leach was hired at MSU. State had just brought in a sitting Power 5 head coach that was one of the most legendary figures in the sport. And we knew things were about to change drastically. State had always been a program that built around a power running game. The idea of throwing it 50+ times a game was almost incomprehensible.
And of course COVID had to dampen the excitement. There was a long stretch where we weren’t even sure if there’d be a football season. But after a lengthy delay, a modified season came together. We were going to see the Air Raid’s debut. But it wasn’t going to be a soft-opening. Leach’s squad was tasked with traveling down to Baton Rouge to face the defending national champion LSU Tigers. And no one was prepared for what was about to go down.
Early on, the Air Raid struggled to take flight. They managed just three points from their first five drives and had turned the ball over twice. Transfer QB KJ Costello and the Bulldog offense looked like a group making a major transition. But after a pick-six gave LSU a 7-3, something clicked. State went 75 yards in just six plays to take a 10-7 lead. The teams traded touchdowns before the half and MSU took a 17-14 lead into the break.
The 2nd half was chaos. State built out a 34-24 lead before consecutive turnovers allowed LSU to tie the game. The Bulldogs responded with a field goal and then forced a punt. Up 37-34 with 6:15 left in the 4th quarter, State went on a drive to put the game away. Facing a 3rd-and-9 from the LSU 24, Costello found Osirus Mitchell on a fade route for a touchdown. The MSU defense would close it out, and State pulled off a stunning upset of the defending champs 44-34.
More impressive than the score, perhaps, was the statistical output by the Bulldog offense. KJ Costello set a SEC-record with 623 passing yards, a number that I don’t anticipate seeing touched anytime soon. In true Mike Leach fashion, Mississippi State managed just nine rushing yards, but on that day, it didn’t matter.
This game has become a bit infamous amongst State fans because of the results that would follow. The next month was abysmal for the MSU offense. Opposing defenses learned from the LSU game how not to play this particular State team, and the lack of experience within the system quickly caught up with them. Costello struggled mightily, dealt with injuries, and was ultimately replaced by Will Rogers.
The 2020 LSU game was, ultimately, not a sign of things to come. The explosive style of offense State produced on that day wouldn’t be replicated in Leach’s tenure. It was a perfect storm of contrasting styles and odd circumstances that allowed for the display.
But it will still go down as one of the most remarkable results in SEC history. Leach set the SEC ablaze just one game into his tenure, in a way that only a pirate could.