Scooter Hobbs column: I spy a coaching blunder

Published 9:08 am Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Give Brian Kelly credit for being upfront, forthright and honest.

But, from an overall coaching standpoint, his admission in the wake of another LSU defensive meltdown in the 42-28 loss to Alabama looks even worse.

It turns out, Kelly admitted Monday, that the Tigers do, in fact, have a “spy” package in their defensive repertoire.

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It might have come in handy last Saturday.

For the casual X-and-O fan, let it be known that a defensive “spy” entails having one (generally athletic) defender assigned the singular chore of keeping an eye on, and preferably hands around, one particularly pesky offensive opposing weapon — as often as not an elusive quarterback with frisky legs. Alabama’s Jalen Milroe could be Exhibit A.

LSU, it turns out, has an Exhibit A of its own if you’re looking for possible spies — fellow named Harold Perkins Jr., would seemingly be LSU’s perfect candidate. It’s a position, if you can call it that, he was seemingly born to play, right out of a James Bond movie. It could have, at least for one game, solved LSU’s year-long dilemma of figuring out where to line him up.

It’s hardly rocket science. It’s the kind of thing you can draw up in the dirt. But, curiously, it never happened Saturday.

So …

“In hindsight … we could’ve spied the quarterback,” Kelly said Monday at his news conference.

“We have spies within or package,” he later added, “We didn’t utilize it in certain situations that, in retrospect, would have been a great call.”

Better late than never.

But it did not need to be done in retrospect, or even in hindsight. It’s the kind of thing that needed to be done at halftime — at the latest — by which time Milroe had 102 of his eventual 155 yards rushing and three of his four touchdown runs.

“There were third-and-long situations,” Kelly explained, “that clearly we felt like we wanted to be more in coverage and we felt like our pass rush could keep him in the pocket. That did not prove to be the case. I would say that was probably the No. 1 thing, if we had to do some things coaching-wise differently, we would have employed a spy technique.”

When, one wonders, did the staff have this epiphany?

Anybody can beat a team with what-ifs and woulda-coulda-shouldas while grading the film postgame.

Making in-game adjustments on the fly apparently is much trickier. Isn’t that how coaches are always defining their jobs, putting their players in position to make plays?

“That’s not really a halftime adjustment,” Kelly said of going to a spy. “You have that in your plan. It’s just a matter of making the call.”

But the call never came.

No guarantee that a change in tactics would have worked. Not much LSU’s defense has done this year has gone right. But it was obvious whatever game plan the coaches devised during the week wasn’t going to slow down Bama, especially on third down.

It brings to mind LSU’s rematch loss to Alabama in the 2012 national title game when Les Miles, who’d used two quarterbacks most of the season, for some stubborn reason refused to change quarterbacks no matter how long Jordan Jefferson stunk up the Superdome.

Like unleashing the spy tactics, there’s no guarantee it would have worked. But it would have shown they were at least trying to adjust, trying something different, rather than, as was the case this time at Alabama, continuing to dance with a plan that was stumbling all over the dance floor.

All it did was bring more heat on embattled defensive coordinator Tom House. No doubt there’s plenty of others to share the blame.

But Kelly is too good of a head coach to have let this inaction happen on his watch.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at