BATON ROUGE, La. — Mike Leach started out his career as the head football coach at Mississippi State with a bang, defeating the sixth-ranked defending national champion LSU Tigers, 44-34, Saturday evening inside Tiger Stadium.
Leach held his weekly postgame press conference to answer questions from the media.
Starting quarterback K.J. Costello, a graduate transfer from Stanford, completed 36 of 60 passes for a Southeastern Conference record 623 yards and five touchdowns in his debut with the Bulldogs.
“I thought it was a really good debut,” Leach said. “Some of his turnovers were his fault and some weren’t, but I think it’s a good start.”
Costello threw two interceptions in the game, but Leach liked that Costello didn’t let that rattle him.
“The biggest strength that I really saw out of him was that he’s the same guy on every play,” Leach said. “He would have the disappointment and something would happen and he’d come back [the] same guy, ready to go, ready to pick the units up.”
The Bulldogs had some young guys step up in key situations, particularly on the defensive side where sophomore cornerback Esaias Furdge and freshman cornerback Emmanuel Forbes each came away with interceptions to get the ball back in the hands of Costello.
“[I] thought they did good,” Leach said. “I thought we had a bunch of young guys play. The thing that I was pleased with is we played together as a team. We didn’t play [perfectly], we weren’t necessarily consistent, but we did play together, kept pushing one another and never emotionally backed off our focus to go out there and play.”
Let’s keep in mind that what Mississippi State just did was against a team that just won the national championship. Yes, LSU lost most of its starters, but that doesn’t change the impressiveness. Costello was phenomenal, and he did it against a well-coached LSU team on the road.
“I thought his composure this game was outstanding,” Leach said. “Our team, I felt like, offensively and defensively [and on special teams] had each other’s backs. We had our share of adversity and just slugged through it, but everybody was in there and stuck with one another, so i thought that was maybe one of the strongest things on our part as a team.”
During the game, the Bulldogs played especially well on third down, converting on 8-of-16 third downs versus 5-of-17 by LSU. The Bulldogs had a 31-yard TD pass on third down, a 43-yard TD pass on third down and a 24-yard TD pass on third down.
“There was a point in that game where I felt like if it was third-and-long the entire time, we would have scored even more points,” Leach said. “Forget first and second, let’s just get to third-and-long.”
When asked about senior running back Kylin Hill, who finished with a total of 192 yards (158 receiving, 34 rushing), Leach said Hill had a heck of a game.
“Just doing the math, and I was horrible at math, let’s see, 50, carry the one, no actually it’s 80....he had 193 yards, so [against] a team like LSU, I think that’s a pretty good performance,” Leach said. 192, Coach, but an ‘A’ for effort since you did all that without a calculator.
Leach says it feels good to get his first signature win in the SEC in his first game as the Mississippi State head football coach.
“It feels good,” Leach said. “The biggest thing is the coaches, players, administration, fans you hear from, I think everybody together is the key on that.”