Updated: Oct 12
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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
In the wake of LSU's home field humiliation at the hands of top 10 Tennessee, many questions have been raised about the decision-making and coaching hires made by the Tigers' 100 million dollar man Brian Kelly.
Once seemingly untouchable among LSU's die hard fan base, the honeymoon now appears over for Kelly and his staff, as disillusioned fans or a laundry list of critical media analysts became a dirge choir after Florida State before rising again post-Tennessee.
Right now, among a fiery fanbase sick of losing with bona fide NFL talents on roster & a bloodthirsty media brigade ready to pounce in celebratory rancor upon any LSU mishap, everything and everyone is up for debate:
Ranging from special teams coordinator Brian Polian's job security, Mike Denbrock's play-calling, the overall ineptitude of LSU's passing offense, Kelly's blunders during a few high profile games, the Head Coach's insistence on sticking with Jayden Daniels as his starter, Kayshon Boutte's body language or his quarterback's inability to feed him, Harold Perkins' inexplicable absence for most of the 1st half vs Tennessee (coaching decision), and of course, the misuse and lack of targets concerning WR Jack Bech....these are just a few of the many sticky talking points the college football world are sinking their teeth into, pushed by a horde of Brian Kelly haters lining up for their feast.
At the same time, Kelly and Co were forced to battle enormous odds & limitations during the first segment of their campaign:
First off, LSU's absolute injury chaos at offensive line, then, their lack of depth at defensive back, interior defensive line, linebacker or running back, and of course, Jayden Daniels' inconsistent play.
Regardless, Kelly led the Tigers to a 4-1 start while swimming against the tide.....a run which included 3 double digit comebacks, LSU's first 60 point game since Burrow's 2019 or first shutout since Devin White prowled the field in 2018....all as Jayden Daniels went from jaw-droppingly brilliant to a cutting visage as a shambolic passer, alternating from one play to the next.
But after the 40-13 clapping by Tennessee, Kelly's Tigers must take a long look inward before their travels to Gainesville.....where they'll face a grudge match against former University of Louisiana-Lafayette Billy Napier....once Kelly's direct rival for the job Napier coveted.
Lazy head coaching "checkbook rivalry" headlines aside, LSU vs Florida 2022 edition will become a game between two currently struggling teams with promising program futures.
Only just a week ago, LSU were thought of as a rising team within a wide open SEC West race, a squad some sheepishly admitted were "better than they thought they'd be".
Now, every deficiency, coaching mistake, locker room inquiry, perceived drama or injury update is laid before the world to dissect, each piece of negative news falling with the plummeting tumult of a sledge hammer.
The reality is far less dramatic or as edge of your seat entertaining....Brian Kelly's LSU simply tricked us into believing they were a potential 8+ win team by starting off with an overachieving 5 game salvo.
None of it was pretty football, winning ugly due to their roster depletion...although possessing a squad replete with future Sunday talent, one felt if they could figure out the Jayden Daniels puzzle, then 2022 LSU could really do some damage in Kelly's year one LSU odyssey.
Often led by Matt House's superb defense, an assortment of running backs working well together to make up for LSU's nonexistent passing game, and at times carried by the legs & (sometimes) arm of Jayden Daniels, the Tigers won four spirited, topsy turvy contests in a row, including two games against lower tier opponents. Stunning some national critics, Kelly's first two SEC games turned into statement victories following epic comebacks.
Despite LSU making a statement, one of Kelly's ass-kicking arrival, this early season swagger soon turned premature.
For all of Kelly's talk about process, consistency, building strong habits or preaching accountability, his team is a giant conundrum of contradictions.
Allowing Florida State 11 third down conversions, muffing two punts inside their own red zone, LSU surrendered 0 points after each turnover, Mekhi Wingo's fumble recovery setting up Daniels' remarkable 99 yard drive....only for onlookers to be left reeling after Damian Ramos' blocked PAT cost LSU the game.
Beating Southern while giving up 201 on the ground, failing to generate a touchdown, let alone a single scoring opportunity for Kayshon Boutte as Kelly pulled the starters far too early, losing valuable in-game reps to gain chemistry.
Shutting teams out for at least 2 quarters over 4 of 6 contests, allowing 337 passing yards to freshman QB Robby Ashford, LSU still vanquished an Auburn squad on the road while their two quarterbacks tossed an astoundingly hideous 85 themselves.....just 5 in the entire second half....
Leading the SEC in turnovers forced.....incapable of recording a single 100 yard game for any running back or receiver......the rise of freshmen Will Campbell, Emery Jones Jr, Harold Perkins and Mason Taylor......multiple standout SEC Defensive Player / Lineman of the Week awards for veterans Jay Ward and BJ Ojulari.......strong showings by transfers Mekhi Wingo, Greg Brooks Jr, Mekhi Garner, punter Jay Bramblett and long snapper Slade Roy.......the anonymity of preseason All-American WR Kayshon Boutte, or elite talent Jack Bech....what does it all equal??
LSU are a poor team, with a lack of known direction or definitive playmaker???
LSU are a squad in need of a quarterback (Walker Howard nudge nudge) and the rest falls in place?????
LSU don't quite have the final championship touches to their coaching staff?
The truth....as I see it?
LSU are an okay team, improving within an elite program framework, led by a top Head Coach who hasn't handled everything with flying colors or koom-bi-ya platitudes, but has shown enough positive direction for players or fans to fully believe in.
2022 LSU are a squad plagued by a lack of depth, minimal on-field trust, poor execution and a couple assistants who appear aloof when it comes to selecting, preparing or developing their best available players.
Does this mean LSU already suffered their bottom, this past Saturday's defeat to Tennessee??? Finishing 8-4 and taking down a few more ranked opponents???
Could LSU actually finish below 6-6 and still establish a winning template for the future?
The best answer?
We haven't got a clue....but the answers are all there in the game tape, one play stacking on top of another until the picture becomes full and clear.
We may not know where we're going in 2022, yet looking at the progress LSU's current freshman / sophomore nucleus have already displayed, alongside LSU's top 5 recruiting classes over the next two cycles, we maintain a strong feeling for where Kelly's Tigers will end up in 2023, 2024 and beyond.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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