Scooter Hobbs column: Kelly not sitting on his hands
Published 8:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2022
It was a little hard to tell Saturday if LSU lived out that most fickle of football clichés, the one when teams are always making their most improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.
Admission: I’ve done no clinical or scientific research on the topic. Could never find a petri dish that would hold 300-pound teenagers, particularly when you add Name, Image and Likeness to the cocktail.
But my idle observations over too many years to count seem to suggest that sometimes teams do make that biggest leap from Week 1 to Week 2 … and sometimes they don’t. No definite pattern there.
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If I had to venture a wild guess, I’d suggest that maybe Week 3 to 4 is the sweet spot.
But, again, it’s hard to prove or quantify it.
I just know this: Week 2 was very, very good for first-year LSU head coach Brian Kelly.
It had little or nothing to do with finally hosting Southern University, the 65 points put up or even the dulcet fellowship of the Golden Band from Tigerland with the Jaguars’ Human Jukebox.
That was pretty much a given. Nothing Kelly’s LSU did last Saturday night was going to get him out of the dunce’s corner, let alone soften the buyer’s remorse among Tigers fans or the smug heckling from LSU outsiders.
He can thank the rest of the college football world for that.
In short, we needed only Week 2 to learn, in retrospect, that there are worse things than losing to Florida State by one point. Even as ugly as it was. Even though it seemed worse than the final score and even though Kelly still should have gone for two at the end for a chance to steal that game.
Kelly suddenly didn’t look so bad after last week’s full-moon Saturday.
The help came from afar. Let’s check the landscape.
The coach LSU fans have always coveted and bemoaned they could never land — Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher — spent Saturday losing 17-14 to Appalachian State, at home in front of 100,000 or so oil-rich benefactors who give the Aggies every benefit known to NIL.
Worse, it was no fluke. App State outgained the Aggies 315-186, had 22 first downs to nine for A&M. Texas A&M’s offense, with Fisher calling the plays, managed one touchdown (the other came on a kickoff return).
Quarterback play seems to be the root of the problem. And the quarterback LSU used to upset the Aggies last season, Max Johnson, can’t crack the starting lineup after transferring to College Station.
Meanwhile, there was first-year Florida head coach Billy Napier, whose opening win over Utah (as opposed to losing to Florida State) ignited a fan chorus that he was right there, barely 50 miles away at Louisiana-Lafayette, and LSU didn’t even make a serious play for him.
Week 2? Florida and Napier got manhandled at home by Kentucky.
Might need more data on that side-by-side comparison, which figures to come up again.
Then there was the place Kelly left, the Golden Dome where Notre Dame fans immediately twisted the narrative into “good riddance” to the Irish’s all-time winningest coach. Also that they were better off in promoting promising good guy Marcus Freeman anyway.
The Irish lost to Marshall, and Freeman is now the first coach in history to start a Notre Dame career 0-3.
For that matter, even Nick Saban looked human and more than a little lucky in a sloppy Alabama performance that somehow beat Texas with a last-minute field goal.
All the while Kelly was simply minding his own business while taking care of Southern.
So all that outside help was more of a reprieve than a redemption.
But even with the Southern grain of salt, Kelly showed you something.
He didn’t sit pat after the FSU debacle, didn’t just vow to clean up all those darn mistakes — it’s football, trust me, different ones will just crop up.
Instead, Kelly and the staff, among other noticeable adjustments, did major tinkering with the struggling offensive line. This time they had a game plan in which Job 1 was to get neglected star receiver Kayshon Boutte involved early. They got quarterback Jayden Daniels rolling out more to take advantage of his true talents in his comfort zone.
There are no guarantees that it all clicks this week against Mississippi State like it did against Southern.
But it shows they were doing real coaching.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org