Scooter Hobbs column: OK to celebrate, dream a little
Published 9:00 am Monday, November 21, 2022
BATON ROUGE — Forget the culture change Brian Kelly has deftly brought to the LSU football locker room.
He’s apparently working on the fan base, too.
If I’m reading him right, he’s saying it is perfectly OK to celebrate.
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No, not that LSU fans really need any tips there. They can famously party with the best of them after a big victory — just look at the postgame armaments in place amongst the tailgaters. Gloating is often involved. Beer and boudin, if not much wine and cheese, is a frequent companion.
So, yeah, Tiger fans have never been shy about an excuse for a celebration.
Some were even scolded recently for over-doing it when they rushed the field after beating Ole Miss for — what was it? — the sixth time in seven years.
It was fine when repeated after beating Alabama on the final play of overtime, but that victory was unexpected, with Nick Saban on the other sideline, and there was a lot of pent-up frustration to be unleashed.
Even last week’s lackluster performance at Arkansas was semi-celebrated as fighting through the inevitable post-Alabama let-down to, as they say, “find a way to win.” And it was a conference opponent.
But there have always been some gray areas, too, especially when things are going good, when expectations have been raised, and it’s not a brand-name opponent taking the brunt of it.
So it was nice to hear Kelly clear up his stance on the matter, to give the all-clear for whooping and hollering and another round on the house following the Tigers’ 41-10 victory over UAB late Saturday night.
Frankly, it seemed like everybody was waiting on his reaction.
After all, it was UAB.
And yet Kelly was verily beaming.
“The wins have been nice … the SEC championship,” he said. “But I’m the most proud of the mental toughness this group has shown.”
It’s always been a fine line when fans have no disrespect for an opponent and start watching games like film critics, more there to pick apart this and that rather than appreciate the good stuff.
Sometimes it’s hard to judge how big of a margin is enough, or how easily it was accomplished.
So it was easy to shove LSU-UAB into that nether category of “They did what they were supposed to do” or “They took care of business.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially when a chilly stadium is a little shy of half-full, it’s drizzling steadily and most everybody just wants to find somewhere warm and dry.
Kelly acted like they’d just beaten Alabama again. He did everything but order confetti.
You could look at it as more evidence of Kelly’s deft touch, the further maturing of this team that he has cobbled together from some existing talent, freshmen in unlikely positions and a lot of emergency surgical strikes at the transfer portal.
The trickiest part was turning it all into a cohesive team, and that was what LSU was displaying while bringing their own energy to a UAB game nobody else seemed interested in.
“That’s taken time, and they did that today,” Kelly said, making it clear it was a next step in the process worth celebrating. “The wins have been nice … the SEC West championship, but I’m the most proud of the mental toughness this group has shown.”
It’s not always as easy as the Tigers made it look in those miserable conditions Saturday.
For that matter, it’s OK for LSU’s fans (if not its football players just yet) to start dreaming the unthinkable for this team, to start thinking about actually making the College Football Playoff.
Still a longshot. But it’s not that far-fetched any more after Tennessee’s embarrassing loss to South Carolina cleared a workable path.
It would still involve a huge upset of No. 1-ranked Georgia in the SEC Championship game, but that was always going to be the case. And among the strange goings-on Saturday far away from Tiger Stadium Saturday, suddenly the Bulldogs didn’t look quite so invincible in a 16-6 struggle against Kentucky.
Don’t put it past this bunch.
It no doubt rankled some LSU feathers when Southern Cal jumped the Tigers in the AP poll Sunday, leaving LSU at No. 6 after Tennessee moved back.
The CFP selection committee may well concur with the poll when its latest rankings come out Tuesday.
Not to worry. If LSU “takes care of business” at Texas A&M this week and pulls the upset against Georgia, it will be too much for anybody to ignore.
And that would surely be worth celebrating.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com