March 21, 2023

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Brian Kelly Dives Deep Into Alabama After Bye Week

LSU head coach Brian Kelly kicks off Bama week by speaking to the media about the Tigers’ big time SEC West matchup against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Kelly started off the Halloween press conference by acknowledging the opposing coach as it is Nick Saban’s birthday.

“Well, it’s a big day, as you know. It’s Nick Saban’s birthday, so I want to wish him a happy birthday to start this off. Maybe that will soften things up a little bit. You can always start a press conference by throwing a little happy birthday wish out to your opposing coach.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly

It is also no ordinary coach too as Nick Saban is perhaps the greatest college football head coach of all time with seven national championships to his credit.

“Certainly what’s to say about Alabama other than consistency, excellence, arguably the greatest head coach in college football history in Nick Saban. I have a great deal of respect for Nick and what he has accomplished and what he has done for college football and great players.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban

As always, the Alabama Crimson Tide has a lot to play for coming in ranked sixth in the country and with a 7-1 overall record. Offensively, everything starts with Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, who is the defending Heisman Trophy winner.

“It starts with Bryce Young. The Heisman Trophy winner is a playmaker. When it comes to making plays on the field, you just put on the film and you watch him. It’s pretty amazing some of the plays that he makes and he is a quarterback. He is a quarterback that is talented. He is not making it up, but he is improvising and making plays. He is elite. That’s all I can say. A pretty terrific player.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on Alabama Quarterback Bryce Young

The defensive side of the football is also led by one of the best players in the country in Will Anderson, and Kelly knows that it is going to be a challenge to make sure that he and his counterparts will not be living in the Tigers’ backfield on Saturday night.

“On defense, you start with Anderson, who is an elite defensive player. Elite in terms of not only his ability to rush the passer, but what they ask him to do. He is an unselfish player. He plays a four technique. He plays a five. He stands up. He does a little bit of everything. He does a lot of different jobs. That’s why he is going to be a great NFL player as well.”

“But, you know, on the other side Turner playing into the boundary is an outstanding football player. So you can’t just say, Hey, we’re going to fan and we’re going to slide to one side. You’ve got problems on both sides when you talk about both of these ends.”

“Massive inside. Oats and Dale. They roll so many guys at you. Smith and Young. It’s deep and talented inside. The two inside backers, you know, outstanding players.”

“And, again, I think you talk about in their entirety the defensive structure is sound and fundamental. They just do a really good job of coaching.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on Alabama’s Defense

With an explosive offense and a talented defense, Alabama has been tough to beat, but the blueprint is there for the Crimson Tide to be defeated.

“The first thing we need to do is just understand that you have to take this game and think about how you got here. We’ve done it by our preparation. We’ve prepared well. We have focused on playing our best when our best is needed. We can’t be distracted by this is a big game or this is Alabama. That’s not going to help us in this situation.”

“What’s going to help us is playing our best when our best is needed. Our best players are going to have to play well. We’re going to have to play consistently for four quarters. We must get off to a good start because we’ve shown that we’re going to play well in the second half, but we have to play well for four quarters. We have to play consistently, one play at a time.”

“All the basic tenants of a game like this is that’s why you come to LSU. It’s not pressure. It’s a privilege to play in games like this. Certainly why I came to LSU, to want to play in games like this.”

The Tigers would nothing more to show off that privilege and get a win in Tiger Stadium on Saturday, but before LSU gets a chance to do that, they must get ready for the Crimson Tide throughout the week and throughout the week, there will be questions on how LSU does get ready for Alabama.

The first question Kelly was asked about how the Tigers rose from being number 18 to number 15 in the AP Top 25 Poll.

“I didn’t even know. I’m not just bringing that up. I had no idea that we jumped up because it’s really not anything that changes what we do and how we do it, right? It’s kind of what I just talked about.”

“The most important thing really is what we do on the practice field today and how we prepare. If it generates more buzz in terms of getting into the stadium and more fans, I’m all for it. Jump us up as high as you can, but it’s really about our preparation that focuses my attention.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on his team jumping up three spots in the AP Top 25 Poll

Twice before, Brian Kelly went head to head against Nick Saban in big games at Notre Dame. The first time was the 2012 BCS National Championship and the second time was when both teams played each other in the 2020 College Football Playoff. Both times, it was Saban that got on top in dominating fashion. Kelly was asked if there was anything that he would do different in those two prior matchups.

“They were extremely talented teams. The ’13 team was as physical as a football team that I have ever played against and have not played a team as physical. Then if you look at the perimeter skill that they had in I think that was ’19, it was amazing. Two different teams, but just fabulous players on both sides of the ball.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on previous Alabama matchups

The bye week also came at a good time for players like Garrett Dellinger and Major Burns. Those are two players that were expected to be back for the Alabama game, and Kelly updated their status for this week.

“Major Burns is cleared to participate, so he will be out at practice today so he, as you can imagine, will be in our game plan. We expect him to play and be an important part of what we do.”

“Garrett Dellinger is day-to-day. He had a good weekend. He was here this weekend. As you can imagine, that’s a little bit different because he has to be able to take a load on that knee.”

“When you are coming back from a knee injury, it’s easier to obviously not have to worry about running and cutting, but you’ve got to be able to take the load. That’s what we’re working on right now.”

“We think we’re going to get him there, but it’s still a process because now we’re going to add practice on to it. We have to see how he responds each day after practice. We had people leaning on him individually over the weekend. Now, we’re going to be leaning on him for a full practice, and we’ll see how it goes, but he is making good progress.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on Major Burns and Garrett Dellinger’s Status

With running backs and tight ends being a big part of the game plan for the Crimson Tide, the LSU linebackers have to be a big part of the game plan. Kelly talked about his plan for how the linebackers will be used against Alabama.

“I think it’s important that the best players play. I think we’ve seen consistently who those players are. Micah Baskerville has been playing really good football for us. Obviously, we want to get Ojulari on the field and Perkins. Those guys are making plays and have had for us high production.”

“So not that Greg has not, and certainly he has done a really nice job for us as well, but those are your high-production guys. When you are playing a team like Alabama, if you know what you are doing at all, you better get your best players on the field.”

Those best players need to show up on defense and need to do so by affecting Bryce Young, which is easier said than done as he is still comfortable of extending plays when plays do break down. When that happens, everybody needs to be accountable in staying with their man, especially in the secondary.

Yeah, I think it’s making sure that you don’t give up big plays. You’ve got to minimize those. Staying in coverage.”

“You know, if he scrambles for a few yards here and there, that’s going to happen within the realm of the structure of the offense or defense, but it’s coming out of coverage. It’s losing your eyes and not staying disciplined. If you have a man, you have to be able to lock on it. Then we’ve got to be able to attack them when we get our opportunities.”

“You are absolutely right. He breaks down your defense when he scrambles, and he is so intuitive and can make those plays happen. I think what we’re concerned more is turning a smaller play into larger plays.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on how his defense needs to stay disciplined when Bryce Young scrambles

Kelly was then asked about recruiting and what LSU needs to do in that area in order to shift the balance of power in the rivalry.

“Look, I think it starts with pulling your base. I think our base extends all the way up to the border north of Baton Rouge so I think there’s been a heightened focus that making sure in the state of Louisiana, we’re not myopic in the sense that we’re just in one geographical area. It’s got to really focus on the entire state.”

“I think it starts there. I think identification of 25s and 26s and making sure that we know all the players in this state and have done a really good job of identifying everybody in the state of Louisiana. So, look, this adage of locking down the borders is like being a lockdown corner. You know, there are no lockdown corners, okay?”

“There are good corners, and there are corners that are elite. We can be elite in the state of Louisiana, and that’s what we need to do. I think you start there and then, look, I mean, it’s about filling the needs that we have currently in our program. We’re not there yet. Unfortunately, we’re probably going to have to dip back into the transfer portal a little bit.”

“We have some really good young players, and we’re not going to forsake them. That’s where we want to build this program. This program will be built on freshmen, but there are a couple of positions that still have holes in them that need to be supplanted with some transfers.”

We’re much better than we were last year. We’ll get better this year, and then hopefully in another year this is just about player development and bringing in freshmen. That’s stage two in terms of getting to where we need to be to hopefully get to that final narrative of upstaging Alabama, but we’re certainly not there yet.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on recruiting

From recruiting to planning on big games, Kelly expanded on various topics and for the latter, it is about simply putting the players in good positions to execute.

“Well, I think it’s all about what your players can execute on Saturdays. We can be the smartest guys in the room, but that doesn’t really matter if they can’t go out and execute it.”

“I think we’re at that point, both teams are, as we get into Week 9 here. It’s about what your players’ strengths and weaknesses are. Knowing your team and knowing what your team can execute at a higher level.”

“I think the good coaches now have settled into here’s what we do, let’s go do it well, and we have to go stop it. I think we’re both at that level of, you know, we’re going to do the things that we do. Yeah, there might be a wrinkle here or there because of self-scouting and we might have had a tendency here or there and they may have had a tendency, and we’re going to try to break a couple of those, and they’re going to try to break a couple of theirs, but I think, by and large, we know our strengths and weaknesses, and now it’s about putting your kids in a good position where they can play fast and free and physical and be the best version of themselves going into November.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on preparing for big games and knowing a team’s tendencies by this part of the year.

LSU vs. Alabama has always been a high stakes matchup with SEC and national championship implications involved. In his first year as LSU’s head coach, Brian Kelly understands the historical significance and the rivalry between these two programs.

“Historical significance is one where there is a clear rivalry between the programs that is real, that you can feel. That’s longstanding. It goes way back to just these two teams being original teams in the conference going against each other, but, you know, I have come to know that a lot of these games that we play in the SEC have some interesting side notes along the way. Look, this one becomes even more because of the success that both programs have had. These are two teams that have won national championships within the last few years. So, you know, they bring on a lot of national notoriety as well.”

“Anytime you play a game like this that’s conference, within your conference, they have to have significance historically, but in realtime both teams are fighting for the SEC West. The games matter when both teams are in a position for this game to have the kind of scrutiny that it does today.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on LSU/Alabama rivalry

To help the freshmen offensive tackles against Alabama’s talented pass rushers, Josh Williams and Mason Taylor will be part of the plan to help out in pass protection.

“I think you have to employ schemes that help out the tackles. As I mentioned before, whether it’s a tight end or a running back or you’re sliding your protection there, but as I mentioned, they’re pretty good on both sides.”

“The ball has to come out quickly. We’ve got to recognize that. We’re not going to be able to sit back there in the pocket and just go through five progressions. I mean, the ball has to come out quickly. We are going to have to move the pocket. We’re going to have to protect. We’re going to have to max protect.”

“So we’re going to have to do a little bit of all those things, but certainly additional players other than the offensive linemen will be involved in protection, no doubt.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on other players being involved in pass protection

The biggest key for LSU’s resurgence has been the improved play and confidence that Jayden Daniels has shown at quarterback the past two games that has put LSU in position to contend for a SEC West title.

“You can see is it in practice. I think there’s much more of an understanding of where they’re going to be and what he is doing. He doesn’t need to look them down. There was a lot of visual hook-ups, if you will, where he was waiting for that receiver.”

“He can get the ball out of his hands now without the receiver being out of his break. That just takes time. We just didn’t have that time earlier in the season, and that’s starting to build that kind of relationship that wasn’t available to us earlier in the year.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on Jayden Daniels’ improved chemistry with the receivers

With Josh Williams inserted as RB1 for the Tigers, the running game has also improved and Kelly gave a lot of credit to offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock for that improvement.

“Yeah, I think it’s like anything else. You need to find some balance within your offensive structure. If you are so one-dimensional that you have to throw the ball on those second and third down situations, then the defense has the advantage in those kinds of situations.”

“I think the offensive staff and I think Mike has done a really good job of making sure that through play-calling there is a balance where you have to defend the run and you have to defend the pass. That’s been the philosophy from day one is that we better be equally as good at both depending on what we get, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job there.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on improvement in the running game

Kelly actually reached out to Nick Saban before he took the LSU job to just talk to him about the SEC and what the LSU job was like. This is what Kelly said about that phone call conversation.

“It was much more about the SEC. It was much more of a general conversation. He didn’t give up any secrets about etouffee or Louisiana or LSU. If he did, I would have bought that house on Highland that he lived in. There was nothing that specific, but it just had been a conversation about the SEC in particular.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on phone call conversation with Nick Saban

If there has been a negative in the last two weeks, it still has been slow starts, especially on the defensive side of the football. Right now, Kelly and his coaching staff are working on answers to what has been the million dollar question.

“We all look at things that I need to do in terms of preparation for our players. What I started doing about three weeks ago is I moved up some articulation or some contact, 11-on-11 contact, from what would be 45 minutes into practice, I moved it up into the first 20 minutes of practice to kind of heighten that and get our guys ready immediately when they come out to practice that, Hey, we need to get after it, we need to be ready right away to build that in. That’s only been a couple of weeks, so we’re trying to build that in.”

“You know, we’re trying to look at some quizzes before on Saturday morning and making sure that we’re sharp mentally. So we’re looking at all those things to make sure and sometimes, maybe it’s just you’ve got to go make a play. Let’s make that catch, let’s make that play, and get top of a good start.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on what the coaches are doing to make sure that the team is starting off games stronger

After having a bye week, Kelly was asked about how the team approached the bye week and if the intensity was still kept at a high level even throughout an off week.

“I thought they were very intentional up this week. Today will be a big day for us. You want to make sure that when you take a few days, you want them to stay sharp mentally and physically. It can’t be just, hey, I’m going to roll up on the couch and watch TV for two days. That’s not going to work, and they know that.”

“Coming back today and having a really good day will be important to us, but I thought that the week was really good. I thought that they were focused, that the intentionality in terms of what they needed to do last week was work on some of the mistakes that had been made over the last couple of weeks. We cleaned those things up.”

“We got a bit of a preview of Alabama in terms of their structure. Then we’ll dive in a little deeper on Alabama today. So far so good, but I think today is a big day for us.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on how the team approached the bye week

It has been a crazy year full of a lot of changes for Jayden Daniels first coming from Arizona State to LSU and now having the two week stretch that he is having. Kelly has been extremely pleased about how he has approached the learning process as the team’s starting quarterback.

“Well, I think it starts with he enjoys being here. I think he is in the right space mentally, first and foremost, because he really enjoys being here.”

“I think he has been in a learning process. He has learned a lot of football, and that growth process has really started to benefit itself, and we’re starting to see that come to fruition on the field.”

“So, I think more than anything else he is in a good space, and because of that, you’re seeing growth and production happen at the same time. I think any time as a coach, as a teacher, as an educator, when you see that with a player, you feel pretty good about where you are at.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on Jayden Daniels’ personal growth throughout the season

With the press conference wrapping out, the question was asked if LSU was ready for Alabama at this part of the season.

“Yeah. I mean, look, I think that this team understands the challenges, but welcomes them at the same time. It fights. This group fights and welcomes it, and I think more than anything else, they’re fighting for something and not fighting against something. That’s a big change from where they were.”

“I think they’re excited about it, and they’re excited about the challenge. They know it’s a challenge, but just sensing them last week, they’re excited about the challenge.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on how team is approaching Alabama

Kelly wrapped up the press conference by giving two more injury updates on two of his key offensive players in Jack Bech and John Emery.

“Both positive. They’ll both practice today. I’m certain Jack will practice. I didn’t get a report in our training room on Emery, but I did get a report before I got in here on Jack, and he is much improved and he was cleared to get out on the practice field today.”

LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly on Jack Bech and John Emery’s injuries

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