It was not the way that LSU fans expected the Brian Kelly era to start off in the Caesar’s Superdome as the Tigers lose in absolute stunning fashion 24-23 after missing the ensuing extra point following the Tigers’ last second touchdown to try and force overtime.
For much of the game, it was very ugly football for the Tigers, but towards the end of the third quarter, the new look LSU team started to put things together late in the game. However, it ended up being too much to overcome for Kelly’s squad to rally. A lot of the questions surrounding this wild card LSU team over the summer came back and reared its ugly head. Although the Tigers certainly did not look good in the season opener, the team still found a way to make it a thrilling finish at the end. With that being said, here are five positive takeaways and five negative takeaways as the Tigers look to bounce back this week against Southern.
1. Jayden Daniels settled down in the second half.
Like the rest of the LSU offense, Jayden Daniels did not look comfortable throughout the majority of the game. However, he showed no quit either. In the fourth quarter, the Arizona State transfer that made his Tigers debut looked like a totally different quarterback completing 14 of 18 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the last fifteen minutes alone. Also, considering how the Tigers were struggling to pass protect and run the football, Daniels’ dual threat ability was the only source of offense in this football game and gave his team a chance to tie the game at the end. Now, Daniels did a better job of getting the ball out quicker and looked efficient as a passer on the last two touchdown drives when the offense was running up tempo. Not to mention, he led the Tigers down the field with just a minute and 20 seconds left to play in the game and showed a lot of poise on the touchdown throw to Jaray Jenkins on the last play in regulation. Despite the loss, Jayden Daniels and the rest of the offense has something they can work with in how they finished the ball game. If the offense can play with this type of pace and smoothness earlier in football games moving forward, this can become a dangerous offense. Daniels also made history becoming only the second quarterback in LSU history to throw for over 200 yards and run for over 100 yards in the same game joining only the legendary Joe Burrow.
“But yeah, we got into a better rhythm certainly in the second half, Jayden [Daniels] did. And he’s a threat. But we don’t want to rely on him having to go back there. And when he does sit in the pocket, we saw his ability to find open receivers, show the patience and in particular on the last touchdown, he stayed in the pocket, showed great patience and found Jaray Jenkins in the back of the end zone.”Brian Kelly on Jayden Daniels
2. Jaray Jenkins
Jaray Jenkins is a player that a lot of people look past when it comes to the receiving core. When one mentions all the great wide receivers the LSU Tigers have, Jenkins’ name usually gets lost in the shuffle, but the quiet, humble leader always steps up when the lights are the brightest in the most crucial moments. Not only was he the Tigers’ leading receiver with five catches for 46 yards, but he also had two key touchdown catches including the clutch touchdown catch on the final play of regulation.
“The one word is consistency. He’s consistent in his preparation. There’s a lot of depth and really good wide receivers, but he’s done a great job with his consistent play.”Brian Kelly on Jaray Jenkins
3. Red Zone Defense
The two Malik Nabers muffed punts put the LSU defense in two bad situations with the Seminoles taking over inside the ten yard line, but both times, the Seminoles would come away with no points. The first time Nabers fumbled happened right before halftime, but the Tigers defense stuffed the Seminoles offense three times before Florida State head coach Mike Norvell decided to go for it on fourth down. Sage Ryan made a great play in coverage in the back of the end zone to force a turnover on downs. The second time Nabers fumbled was towards the end of the football game and it looked like it was going to be the nail in the coffin for the Tigers, but the Tigers came away with a gift, which was a fumble recovery just outside the end zone to give the Tigers offense one final shot to go down the length of the football field. The defense had many struggles throughout the football game, but a positive sign was how tough this defense played in the red zone giving up only one touchdown on three Florida State trips.
4. Jay Ward and Major Burns:
It is not a good thing to have your safeties as your leading tacklers, but that was the case for LSU on Saturday night. Both Jay Ward and Major Burns did make plays all over the field. Both Ward and Burns had eight tackles each with Burns having two tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The new look secondary was a huge question mark going into the game, but for the most part, the two safeties and cornerbacks like Mekhi Garner, Jarrick Bernard-Converse, and Colby Richardson played well. The only two passing touchdowns given up were a trick play and an incredible throw that was made by Jordan Travis where only the receiver could make. Both safeties established their starting spots even more and how the defensive backs did not panic on deep throws down the field is another positive takeaway moving towards the Southern game.
5. 4th Quarter Performance:
Down 24-10 through three quarters of play in which Florida State dominated, it would have been easy for the Tigers to give up, but the Tigers came alive in the fourth quarter. Offensively, the Tigers scored touchdowns on back to back drives towards the end of the game and the Tigers defense did enough to give their team a chance at the end with the fumble recovery inside the one yard line. The offense produced 13 of its 23 points in the final stanza and also had 174 of its 348 yards within the last 15 minutes. Although it proved to be too little too late for the Tigers, its performance on offense and defense in the fourth quarter is a shining light in a very dark outcome. Playing in the first game of the year, it took a while for the new look Tigers to figure it out, but once they did, the team came storming back. Now, if the coaching staff and players put that together much earlier in football games moving forward, this team could still be very dangerous if they harness that late game production on a more consistent basis.
“I was proud of our resolve. We battled. But we just have to learn how to play the game the right way, and that is for four quarters. We didn’t play with the kind of sense of urgency that I want for four quarters, and that was evident in our play.”
“So what we did well is we battled. I’m proud of the way we battled. What, obviously, we need to do better is play with a sense of urgency for four quarters, which we did not.”Brian Kelly on team’s fourth quarter performance
Special teams was the ultimate deciding factor in the football game. Heading into the season, LSU’s entire special teams unit features new starters at every position, and unfortunately for the Tigers, that inexperience cost the Tigers a potential win. There were five errors on special teams throughout the course of the game. There were two muffed punts by Malik Nabers, a shanked 31 yard punt by Jay Bramblett after he hit a booming 55 yard punt on the prior attempt, and most noticeably, the blocked field goal and the blocked extra point that would win the football game for Florida State. Now, Nabers’ two muffed punts did not hurt the Tigers on the scoreboard, but LSU would have a better opportunity to score right before halftime on the first fumble and LSU’s offense that was getting in rhythm would get the football back with an extra minute on the clock. Obviously, the blocked kicks took four points off the board for LSU and that would ultimately become the difference in the football game. The good news is that field goal execution and muffed punts are all correctable, but it would be an interesting development on what adjustments the coaching staff will make with this unit moving forward.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. You put a guy back there, a guy like Malik Nabers, you watch him, you evaluate him through four weeks of practice, and you feel comfortable with his elite skill set and his mindset that he’s going to be able to do a great job, and that wasn’t the case. That was a mistake that we made.”
“He wants to do it, and we’ll have to reevaluate that situation. He’s a great kid. We didn’t lose the game because he dropped those two punts. We miraculously were able to overcome those. You usually wouldn’t. But that’s ‑‑ you know, that’s on us. We made that evaluation. We watched him catch punts, and we felt like he was in a position that he could do that for us.”
“As it relates to the field goal, it came from the same left side. We made an adjustment after the field goal and made a switch in personnel, and that didn’t work either. That’s on ‑‑ that’s us. We have to do a better job coaching.”Brian Kelly on poor special teams execution
2. Offensive Line Play
Like the special teams unit, the offensive line was a big concern heading into the season because of how new the offensive line looked from having a true freshman at left tackle in Will Campbell to having a new center in Garrett Dellinger. The Tigers could not get any sort of a running game going. Besides Daniels’ quarterback scrambles, the offense could only muster 39 yards on the ground. It was also a rough game for this front five in pass protection. Although Daniels was sacked four times, it could have been much more than that as the Arizona State transfer ran for his life for the majority of the game to avoid getting sacked. It was a rough night to say the least for the front five, but this group is playing together for the very first time so the more times this young, inexperienced group is out there, the more comfortable not only will they be out there, but also the more comfortable Jayden Daniels will be to hang in the pocket longer as well.
“A lot of the issues are ‘OL awareness’ and making sure we are helping where help is needed. We have five guys battling. They need to know where their help is coming from. We lack the awareness, but we will get there and build it as the season goes on.”Brian Kelly on the offensive line troubles
3. Third Down Defense:
When Brian Kelly talked about what he wanted from his defense at the very first “Brian Kelly Show” at TJ Ribs, he stated that he wanted his defenses to force turnovers and get off the field on third down. Well, the latter was certainly a problem for the Tigers. On the money down, LSU’s defense just could not get off the field. Throughout the night, Florida State came through time and time again on third down converting 11 of 17 attempts including four third down pickups on the Seminoles’ first touchdown drive. Struggling on special teams and getting off the field on third downs will make it even tougher to win football games no matter how talented a team is, and that was certainly the case Sunday night.
“We felt like we could get off the field on third down. We thought we would tackle better, but you don’t go through camp tackling at the level that you’re trying to tackle the quarterback here at Florida State. It’s very difficult.”Coach Brian Kelly on inability to get off the field on third down
Coach Kelly brings me to my next point, which was tackling. Watching the game, it reminded me a lot of the Auburn game last season. Like the Auburn game when LSU had trouble corralling an athletic quarterback in Bo Nix, LSU had opportunities to sack Jordan Travis in the backfield, but giving credit where credit is due, Travis played a phenomenal football game and extended plays inside and outside the pocket. Kelly stated that the defense missed a whopping 16 tackles on Travis throughout the contest. Missing tackles early in the season is normal and combine that with going up against a slippery and dynamic quarterback like Jordan Travis proved to be a recipe for disaster.
5. Injuries and Ejections On Defensive Line:
This year, the defensive line is expected to be one of the best in the country led by Ali Gaye, Maason Smith, BJ Ojulari, and Jaquelin Roy. However, the starting defensive line took some big blows from the very start. After celebrating on the first drive, Maason Smith landed on his knee awkwardly and did not come back the rest of the game. It would later be announced that the talented sophomore would have to miss the entire season due to an ACL tear. Then, BJ Ojulari would later have a knee injury as well, but the good news was that he returned and played the rest of the game. Ali Gaye had a very blatant targeting call and was ejected for the rest of the game. Jaquelin Roy was the only starter not to have issues during the game, but the depth of the defensive line took a big hit after going through a relatively healthy fall camp. The good news is that Mekhi Wingo stepped up and looked great on the defensive line, but already getting these types of injuries this early in the season is not a good sign.
“Maason Smith has an ACL tear. We are crushed for him because he was celebrating for a teammate on the play. He’s a great player. It’s next man up. We’ll call on some other players to step into his role.”Brian Kelly on Maason Smith injury
“Not giving Ali Gaye a pass on that targeting call. Look that up and that’s the definition of it. He’s regretful of the situation and he’ll sit out the first half Saturday night.”Brian Kelly on Ali Gaye’s targeting call
After becoming the first LSU head coach to lose a season opener since Gerry DiNardo back in 1995, Brian Kelly and the LSU Tigers will look to fix a lot of these issues that cost them the game against Florida State. They will try to continue some of the positive play towards the end of the game and carry it to Southern this Saturday night.