Nuggets: The Pirate just swaggered into the SEC and sunk the defending champs

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NUGGETS

Nine days before their first game, Ed Orgeron hopped on Zoom and said this. “We are so much better on defense right now than any part of the season last year.”

Mike Leach and Mississippi State walked into Tiger Stadium and proved that wildly, dramatically, laughably incorrect in one afternoon.

I could try to dress up what happened on Saturday afternoon with some flowery language, but the facts are so wild they defy belief, even if you watched every single snap of Mississippi State 44, LSU 34: In his SEC head coaching debut, Leach's offense produced more passing yards than any game in conference history, against the defending national champions. And he broke it by 79 yards.

Stanford graduate transfer KJ Costello completed 36 of 60 passes for 623 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions. He set the FBS record for passing yards in a debut game. Three Bulldogs topped 120 receiving yards. Osirus Mitchell and Kylin Hill became the first SEC duo to both top 150 yards (183 and 158, respectively) in eight years.

Mississippi State didn't punt in the second half. Granted, two possessions ended in Costello turnovers -- he actually coughed it up three times, leading to 17 Tiger points -- but Mississippi State responded each time LSU landed a blow. They actually went 75 yards in six plays to go up 10-7 immediately after a Costello pick-six got LSU on the board in the second quarter.

The Bulldogs answered all but one LSU score with points of their own and, after blowing a 34-24 lead, scored the game's final 10 points to secure the SEC's most improbable win in quite some time.

What does this mean for LSU? Well, in the immediate term, not a whole lot. The schedule makers offered the Tigers a chance to lick their wounds with Vanderbilt and Missouri up next, but Florida -- who dropped 642 yards and 51 points on Ole Miss on Saturday -- comes next. Auburn and Alabama follow soon after. More than anything, Saturday was a slap in the face that it ain't 2019 anymore in Baton Rouge. LSU just became the first reigning national champion to lose its opener since 1998, and the first to ever allow 600 passing yards. Turns out you can't lose nearly all your key contributors plus two coordinators and pick up where you left off -- or better than you left off, as Orgeron expected to be defensively. Cats roar in Norman. What odds would you need to be given to bet on Kansas State with 2:46 to go in the third quarter on Saturday? The Wildcats were fresh off a loss to Arkansas State, down seven contributors due to contact tracing and down 21 on the scoreboard. The only people in the world who thought K-State had a chance were wearing purple and standing on the visitor's sideline at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. (And, if they're being completely honest, some of them probably had some doubt, too.) Over the game's final 17:46, K-State scored 24 points over four consecutive drives while forcing a fumble, three straight punts and a game-ending interception.

Kansas State made Spencer Rattler (387 yards with 4 TDs, 3 INTs) look like a freshman playing through his first adverse situation as a college football player.

It was also another example of something that's become a problem in the Lincoln Riley era of OU football -- holding big leads. Saturday's 24-0 K-State run was the largest OU has surrendered since... K-State ripped off a 41-6 run in last year's game.

Game

OU Lead

Final Score

2017 Iowa State

24-10

L, 38-31

2017 Texas

20-0

W, 29-24

2017 Georgia

31-14

L, 54-48

2019 K-State

17-7

L, 48-41

2019 Iowa State

42-21

W, 42-41

2019 TCU

21-0

W, 28-24

2019 Baylor

23-13

W, 30-23 (OT)

2020 K-State

35-14

L, 38-35

In the process, Kansas State became the first Big 12 team to score back-to-back wins over OU since Baylor did it in 2013-14, back in the pre-Riley era. It was K-State's first victory at an AP Top 3 opponent in school history.

Riley can coach Rattler out of those three interceptions, but the biggest issue has to be the running game and the offensive line. After averaging 3.54 yards per carry in the opener against Missouri State, the Sooners pounded out 3.7 on Saturday. It was actually Oklahoma's fourth straight game under four yards per carry; the last comparable stretch came when the Sooners were held below 4.0 yards per tote four times in a 5-game stretch back in 2015, Riley's first in Norman. Speaking of improbable Big 12 comebacks... How left for dead did Texas appear with 3:13 to play in Lubbock? A game the Longhorns had led 17-7, and led in rushing something like 113-8, had completely turned. Not only did they trail 56-41, it was the way in which they surrendered the lead. (This game, by the way, included blocked punts and onside kick recoveries by both sides and a fumbled punt returned for a touchdown.) -- Two straight fourth quarter drives, with Texas Tech in the lead, ended with 3rd-and-long sacks while Tech rushed just three defenders both times. Twice Texas trotted on the field needing a score to take the lead, and twice they trotted off three plays later, having lost 21 and 16 yards on those drives. -- Trailing 49-41, multiple Longhorn defenders put a hand on Tech running back SaRodorick Thompson before watching him scamper 75 yards for what certainly appeared to be a clinching touchdown. The Red Raiders had won the second half 35-10 at that point, a half in which the Texas offense contributed all of three points. It was all so reminiscent of what went wrong for Texas in a disappointing 2019 campaign, a season that was not lost in forgivable losses to LSU and Oklahoma, but by gagging away games at Iowa State and TCU and a non-competitive loss at Baylor. With Oklahoma having provided a window earlier in the day, with a senior quarterback and a roster full of Tom Herman's recruits, it all felt like a frustrating, embarrassing missed opportunity. Until it wasn't.

With the game -- and, who knows?, perhaps even the season and the entire direction of the program -- on his shoulders, Ehlinger went 7-of-8 for 102 yards and three touchdowns, plus a 2-point conversion as Texas closed on a 22-0 run to pull out a 63-56 win.

Encouraging as that may be, Texas must ask itself how it was possible that Ehlinger had 160 passing yards (on 32 attempts) through the game's first 56:47 against a defense that surrendered 567 yards and four TDs on 49 attempts to Houston Baptist two weeks ago.

Texas returns from Lubbock with a lot to fix and re-examine, but the important thing is they'll do so with a team eager to hit the chalk board.

Did we just witness a changing of the guard in the SEC East? All offseason I've watched people talk themselves into Florida and thought to myself "I'll believe it when I see it -- when Florida wins in Jacksonville." We're still a long way from the Cocktail Party, but it's hard to come to any other conclusion after watching Saturday's action. Florida's Kyle Trask did his best to fill the role of "2020's Joe Burrow" by hitting 30-of-42 throws for 416 yards with six touchdowns and no picks in a 51-35 win at Ole Miss.

Georgia, meanwhile, had to turn to former walk-on Stetson Bennett IV to rescue a 7-2 deficit at Arkansas, all while its fans asked themselves how they went from Justin Fields, to Jamie Newman, to Stetson Bennett IV.

That's unfair to Bennett. He played admirably in relief (20-of-29 for 211 yards and two TDs) and Georgia won going away, 37-10.

Georgia is still the more talented team, on paper. But if the gap in quarterback play remains this large all season long, it won't matter.

FRIES

The Super 16. The FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll isn't running this year, but the Nuggets is filling out a weekly ballot anyway.

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Ohio State
  4. Florida
  5. Notre Dame
  6. You know what? Maybe the rest of the ballot can wait for another week.

Odds and Ends

a. What tweet perfectly encapsulated Mississippi State 44, LSU 34?

b. What tweet did Mike Leach send after beating the defending champions in Game 1 at Mississippi State?

c. Elsewhere in the SEC, Part I: Tennessee fended off South Carolina 31-27 in Columbia, sealing the win when a punt hit an unsuspecting Gamecock's leg, which the Vols recovered.

d. If this is what it takes to coach at Army, I don't have what it takes to coach at Army.

e. Louisiana continues to be entertaining. After winning at Iowa State and rallying past Georgia State, the Cajuns moved to 3-0 on a 53-yard field goal at the buzzer.

f. Oklahoma State's defense has surrendered 20 points through two games. Jim Knowles' boys might be good to quite good this year.

g. Also off to an unexpectedly good start: Pitt. The Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 2014 after a ranked-on-ranked win over Louisville, 23-20.

h. Liberty is 2-0, throwing for 308 yards and running for 219 in a 36-34 win at FIU.

i. Elsewhere in the SEC, Part II: Texas A&M beat Vanderbilt 17-12, clinching the win after Derek Mason was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after coming on the field to call timeout.

j. After losing to Navy thanks to the weirdest second half of the year, Tulane righted itself in a 66-24 win at Southern Miss. k. Speaking of righting the ship, Iowa State rebounded from that loss to Louisiana with a 37-34 win at TCU in Fort Worth. l. UTEP is 3-1 for the first time since 1970 with a 31-6 win over ULM, its biggest win over an FBS opponent since a 52-24 victory over North Texas in 2016. m. Elsewhere in the SEC, Part III: Alabama beat Mizzou 38-19 after leading 28-3 at the half. Ho, meet hum. n. UTSA is off to a 3-0 start to the Jeff Traylor era after a 37-35 defeat of Middle Tennessee on Friday, and I promise you no one in college football is having more fun.

o. Cincinnati fended off Army in the Upset Special of the Day, 24-10. Luke Fickell's team is 25-5 in its last 30 games.

p. Elsewhere in the SEC, Part IV: It was definitely a good showing for Gus Malzahn and Auburn that the Upset Special of the SEC passed largely without incident, a 29-13 Tigers win over Kentucky.

q. Miami keeps getting better, drubbing Florida State 52-10. The 'Canes have now won the last four in that series; Saturday's was their second biggest victory over FSU ever.

r. It didn't end in a win, but Ole Miss had a good showing -- the offense did, at least -- in Game 1 under Lane Kiffin. The Rebels racked up 613 yards of total offense and also did this.

s. In three games against FBS competition, Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe is 106-of-169 for 1,453 yards with 12 touchdowns against just one pick. t. Fourth time's the charm. After losing his first three openers, Dave Aranda won his first game as a head coach, leading Baylor to a 47-14 win over Kansas.

DESSERT The helmet sticker of Week 4 goes to Virginia Tech's staff. This team saw its first two games postponed and played Saturday, its first of the post-Bud Foster era, without defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton, linebackers coach Tracy Claeys and 11 players, including starting quarterback Hendon Hooker. 29-year-old cornerbacks coach Ryan Smith, in his first game on staff, called the defense. Tech beat NC State, 45-24.