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2024 LSU TIGERS PREVIEW: YEAR III OF THE BRIAN KELLY ERA BEGINS

PRESENTED BY RELEAFMED.COM

By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN


The matte black Tesla could barely be seen or heard as it zoomed below the canopy of twisted oak trees lining and dotting Highland Road, flying past the empty streets and darkened houses on its way to LSU Operations Headquarters.....after all, it was only 4am.
On Saturdays in fall, this road leading to campus is logjammed with traffic, noise, the sizzling aroma of a thousand different cooking Louisiana specialties, scores of people clad in purple and gold, all ready for another afternoon or evening of Tiger football.
But here we are in February and those images are merely expectant ghosts of the past....a forecasted future of revelry echoing off the sounds of the Tesla crunching fallen leaves as it tears through the road, bending as it enters campus.......not a soul in sight.

As the Tesla pulls into the dormant parking lot, its steely white polycarbonate headlights reflect off the large, stately windows of LSU Operations, the car pulls into the first spot towards the front....and then, a door opens....

....it's time for business....

Hired by LSU in late 2021, expected by some analysts to become "the next Saban", as many fans from his former school clamor for his bombastic failure, the head coach steps out of his all black Tesla and shuts the door, hits the lock on his electronic key, and buzzes himself into the building via key card, immediately walking into a glittering purple and gold-tiled centerpiece room, lined with the many championship & individual trophies or awards earned by LSU football....

In 2024, LSU's Head Coach isn't merely living up to a trophy cabinet past, he's now actively building upon his own burgeoning Tiger legacy, delivering a Heisman Trophy and an SEC West title during a short 2 year reign....

Like most mornings, the glint of the hardware barely catches his eye as he ascends the grand staircase toward his upper level office....LSU's Head Coach is already buried deep in the tasks of the day.

Brian Keith Kelly was born in Everett, Massachusetts, one of the furthest destinations from Baton Rouge, Louisiana one could find....both culturally & geographically, yet his intense demeanor, surly to savagely dry humor, streamlined mannerisms, and overt ambition has fit in seamlessly at his new home.
Throughout his nearly 40 year career, Brian Kelly has punched up against the best of college football, maximizing limited resources or personnel as he climbed from Grand Valley State to Central Michigan, then supplied BCS success to Cincinnati in the mid 2000s (putting that program on the map), before finally coaching Notre Dame for over a decade, taking the Irish to the 2012 BCS National Championship Game & multiple CFP Playoff semifinal appearances......but at LSU, Kelly now possesses a staff & athletic department in full alignment, chock full of resources and upgraded personnel of the likes he's never coached before.

Year 1 supplied a 10 win campaign featuring victories over top 10 Alabama (one of the greatest SEC games you'll ever see & ballsiest all time coaching moves), top 10 Ole Miss, wins on the road against Auburn & Florida (for the first time during the same campaign in program history), culminating in LSU's first SEC Championship Game appearance since 2019 (only their second since 2011).

Year 2 provided yet another 10 win season, a Heisman Trophy winner in QB Jayden Daniels, leading one of the most efficient, productive and explosive offenses in college football history, both Malik Nabers & Brian Thomas Jr eclipsed 1,000 yards and 15 TDs, however....much like 2022's disastrous special teams unit, which plucked 3 games from LSU's win column, 2023's historically pathetic defense under Matt House cost the Tigers and their championship-level offense a chance at immortality.

20 wins against quality opponents, impressive statistical feats, individual awards, back to back top 10 recruiting classes followed up by the current #1 class for 2025.....all signs point to a very bright present & future for LSU with Kelly at the helm....

....but what if 10 wins per year, a handful of impressive feats, some individual greatness, and a hot boiling recruiting streak aren't enough for Coach Kelly's LSU?
What if there is a higher destiny to attain? A greater collective purpose?
Championships.
One word....holding such decadent, ominous power.
The word that sent Kelly packing....all the way from the comfortable confines of South Bend's Midwestern elitism down to the hot and intense apex luster of Baton Rouge.....instead of a limited legacy at Notre Dame, Kelly opted for the SEC's high stakes showtime smoke & the state of Louisiana's infinite star power.

Much like 2022 Recruiting Director / Special Teams Coordinator Brian Polian, a longtime friend and right hand man of Kelly's at Notre Dame, who was summarily fired after his shocking coaching & recruiting nadir in 2022, Matt House would suffer the same fate at the start of 2024.

Despite these close personal & professional ties, Coach Kelly refused to allow any obstacle to block the Tigers' path towards a championship.

Due to these decisions, Kelly's LSU enter the 2024 offseason with a clean slate, this time after making some of the strongest and most astute coaching hires of his career.

Ousting 2022-2023 defensive coordinator Matt House and his entire handpicked staff immediately following the Tigers' bowl game win over Wisconsin, former Tiger assistant Blake Baker was installed as LSU's new defensive shotcaller. Thereafter, Kelly methodically went down the list and entrusted a solid collection of mostly Louisiana-bred men of preeminent coaching pedigree.

Kelly hired his biggest staff target since his tenure began, the game's #1 DL Coach, Mr. Bo Davis, prying the LSU alum from Texas after key behind the scenes work by AD Scott Woodward helped drag the deal over the line.

Bringing the Baton Rouge native and 3x National Championship-winning Saban disciple back home will no doubt prove to be a masterstroke.

Then, legendary LSU DBs Coach Corey Raymond returned to the staff after 2 years away as a member of Billy Napier's Gators, a move which excited current players and future prospects alike.

Signing on Broyles Award nominee Kevin Peoples as LSU's edge rushing coach, retaining Bob Diaco as a defensive analyst, or even firing his longtime apprentice & former player at Grand Valley, John Jancek.....moves like these prove Kelly is about winning at LSU right now.

As cold as it may appear, the Irish Tiger ousted Jancek (2023's edge rushing coach / special teams coordinator) because he simply felt Peoples would be an upgrade at the edge (plus, Baker wanted his Mizzou wingman to follow him to his next gig), while his pairing of new TEs Coach Slade Nagle (formerly of Tulane) alongside Bob Diaco as special teams co-coordinators effectively hired away Jancek's dual titles.

Wanting what's best for the Tigers, Kelly is even willing to pay the personal price of firing longtime friends..........although, this isn't personal, this is about business in Year 3.

LSU's entire nation of supporters & alumni are all still disgusted by the fact that our 2023 juggernaut offense, 2023 Heisman winning QB, Joe Moore Award finalist O-line, and Biletnikoff-robbed WR duo failed to compete for a championship last fall......but the page has been turned, with the disappointment fueling the players' desire throughout head trainer Jake Flint's physically exhausting winter workout grind.

Leaders have already stood up to be counted upon for next season, Tigers who were selected by their peers to front Kelly's "accountability squads" (aka S.W.A.T teams), and despite some roster uncertainty in a few key positions, Coach Kelly and his Tigers remain in a solid spot as frontline contenders within the SEC's changing landscape.
Facing a murderer's row schedule in 2024, beginning with USC in Vegas and ending vs Oklahoma in Death Valley, there is also a wide open range of possibilities for Kelly's Tigers in this next frontier of college football:
No more Nick Saban and an Alabama program that is currently reeling without him, National Champions Michigan losing Head Coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL, an overconfident & cocky Ole Miss, A&M rebuilding amid the (expensive) floating debris of Jimbo Fisher's firing & Billy Liucci's drunken tirades, the dissolution or combination of the Pac 12 and Big 10, the inclusion of Oklahoma & Texas as part of the SEC, the expanded CFP format awaiting this December and January....many of these changes favor LSU.

Also favoring the Tigers' future ahead?

The program's steely financial backbone, rising collective (that is about to figure it all out with former 2021 LSU GM Austin Thomas' return), faithful donors & boosters, as well as the Tigers' high profile NIL rock stars across all major sports....

....the future for the purple and gold appears bright, and a lot of the credit should go to Head Coach Brian Kelly's stabilizing aura over these past two seasons of building championship expectation & tension.

As we laid out previously, Kelly was relentless & impressive when retooling his coaching staff, but he's also performed miracles regarding his roster:

Since Kelly has arrived, the Tigers have accomplished two things they never could previously: recruit, retain and develop a stable of top tier quarterbacks (major credit must go to offensive coordinator / QBs Coach Joe Sloan), while building a trench army of offensive linemen thanks to Brad Davis (considered by many to be the nation's #1 O-line coach).

Ushering in the arrival of transfer QB Jayden Daniels, later winning a Heisman en route to a projected top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, while also making sure LSU pulled off the unthinkable by retaining elite-level QB Garrett Nussmeier in the 2022-2023 portal window, this fall's expected starter, Kelly & Sloan then earned commitments from 2024 freshman & 16 year old future star Colin Hurley, sealed the #1 overall QB of the 2025 class, Michigan native Bryce Underwood, and even attracted Vanderbilt transfer QB A.J Swann this winter via the portal.

Looking set at quarterback and offensive line for the next few seasons at least, Kelly and his staff established a nonstop pipeline of talent at the game's two most pivotal positions.

Coach Kelly is now expanding that reach into Blake Baker's defense, focusing on LSU's struggling side of the ball during offseason preparations & on the recruiting trail, looking for solutions to their lack of defensive line depth or proven secondary options, signing 5 stars or attracting top talents since the hire of Bo Davis & Corey Raymond.

Those two key areas, alongside wide receiver, remain LSU's biggest question marks heading into 2024.....

Against Wisconsin, Nussmeier answered questions about his poise, all around quarterbacking ability & mobility when facing pressure, as All-American LT Will Campbell, super senior RB Josh Williams (the final 2019 Tiger on roster), LB Harold Perkins, DB Sage Ryan, and RT Emery Jones Jr are all staking out leadership positions on this team, there is a vast array of elite young talents on both sides of the ball (Jackson, Toviano, Womack, Weeks, Yaites, Stamps, Anderson, Chester, Davis, Howard, Keys, Sampson, etc), and a dash of veteran presence at prominent areas of the field.....though make no mistake, 2024 LSU is a much younger team than 2022 or 2023.

That youthful energy, combined with an overwhelming thirst for revenge after last year's disappointment, could actually become the Tigers' biggest assets this fall....

PT. II COMING SOON


by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

©️ 2024 Uninterrupted Writings Inc




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1 Comment


I am solidly in coach’s corner. I know he is not infallible. He has made a few mistakes, but his vision and follow through on his Path and program are unshakable. He is without a doubt the man I want leading LSU. The foundation is being built the right way.

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