They tell you in journalism school never to start a story with a quote. I once had a professor say that you can only do it three times in your career, so you better make it count.
But I can think of no better way to describe what happened to LSU football Sunday night in Orlando than what the head coach of the team said himself.
“For some reason, we thought we were somebody else,” Kelly said. “We thought we were the two-time national champion Georgia Bulldogs. I don’t what we thought, but we were mistaken.”
“We certainly are not the football team I thought we were.”
LSU lost 45-24 to Florida State Sunday night in a game that was in fact competitive in the first half before the Seminoles completely took the game over and scored 31 unanswered points in the second half to railroad the Tigers.
Like all things in life, there is nuance to this game because for a period LSU did look like the team that had the upper hand and was game with a team that appears to be living up to and exceeding the hype surrounding them. But the way LSU lost this game continues an uninspiring trend for Brian Kelly and LSU and put his own shortcomings as a head coach front and center.
Firstly, LSU was outmanned in this game, specifically in the secondary. We’ll see how they respond the rest of the season but LSU’s triage of cornerbacks Duce Chestnut and Zy Alexander looked like transfers from Syracuse and Southeastern playing against one of the most coveted receivers to enter the transfer portal in Keon Coleman, a wide receiver from Opelousas that LSU never offered.
LSU could not get a run game established as the line as a whole could not push all game against the Seminoles, which resulted in LSU getting stuffed twice in the red zone in the first quarter, the first coming on the goal line. Flip those conversions maybe the game takes on a whole new pattern. In the spirit of fairness, I found that LSU’s line did hold up well in pass protection, but in run blocking they fell way short of the mark, specifically the right side.
And then for good coverage, he was outcoached. I don’t mean outcoached in that Mike Norvell exploited something LSU didn’t know was a weakness, I mean outcoached in that Brian Kelly didn’t put LSU in situations to be successful. First and foremost, there was the dubious decision to chase points early in the game that could have impacted the way the game unfolded. I can live with not settling for the field goal on the first drive of the game when you’re on the goal line, but the second time Kelly should have seen that his line wasn’t getting sufficient push and should have taken points.
Hindsight is 20/20 though and ultimately another six points wouldn’t have changed the outcome. But then there is the Harold Perkins thing.
Perkins came out in full force last year as one of the most dynamic pass rushers and play disrupters in college football last year, and he changed games for LSU. But in the spring Kelly and Co. made the decision to move Perkins from outside edge rusher to an off-the-ball linebacker who spent most of the game in a spy position, effectively removing him from the game completely. Arguably the best player on LSU’s roster, neutralized by his own coach.
Here’s what’s really concerning: this is the fifth loss in the Kelly era at LSU, and it’s the fourth one that wasn’t particularly close. Last year’s Florida State game can be recounted because it should have gone to overtime and it was only his first game, so whatever. But then he was blown off the field by Tennessee, smoked by a bad Texas A&M team in a game they should have won handily, and then didn’t even belong on the field against Georgia in the SEC Championship. I don’t know how much water the fact that he got a two-point conversion against Alabama is supposed to carry when he continues to get outclassed in these other similar matchups and in the case of Texas A&M, a game he was supposed to win handily. In my opinion, any goodwill he fostered by beating Alabama and making it to Atlanta has been wasted by getting smoked by the Aggies and showing up underprepared to start the season last night.
But this is the book on Brian Kelly and has been for some time: he’ll win a good amount of games, but won’t win you the really big ones with any real frequency. So far, he has lived up to the billing.
The point of all this isn’t to bury Kelly or call for his firing. This is only week one and the team will continue to improve as the season rolls along, that’s kind of how the season works. He does deserve the benefit of the doubt as we continue to move through a three-year “prove it” period. But the trend of LSU being outclassed in their losses under Kelly certainly isn’t inspiring. His next job is to get to the Alabama game at 7-1, and then we can re-assess then.