Scooter Hobbs column: LSU’s postseason postmortem
Published 9:00 am Wednesday, January 3, 2024
Let’s sort through what must have been on LSU’s ReliaQuest Bowl to-do list.
Check. Garrett Nussmeier looked the part. He’s no Jayden Daniels with his feet, but you can win with his arm as a conventional drop-back quarterback. He looked comfortable in the pocket, even when under pressure, and seemed to make all the right reads. And there’s not much better statement you can make in your first college start than directing a winning, 98-yard drive in the waning moments.
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Give Vanderbilt transfer A.J. Swann a fair look in the spring, but Nussmeier is your man for 2024 and figures to be at least among the SEC’s upper echelon.
Check. Malik Nabers played just long enough to get 23 yards, one more than he needed to become the Tigers’ all-time leading receiver. So that left it to his sidekick, Brian Thomas Jr., to get 98 yards and haul in two touchdowns. He’s likely to declare for the NFL draft any minute now, but LSU always has receivers and the next wave, led by Chris Hilton, Kyren Lacy and tight end Mason Taylor, served notice they’re ready to take the baton and be the next stars.
Check. As somebody more clever than me said, LSU finally found a coordinator who knew how to properly use Harold Perkins Jr. Granted, Perkins, who was the first purely defensive player to score an LSU offensive touchdown since Booger McFarland in 1995, will likely now return to his linebacking chores.
Nussmeier wasn’t sacked. And that line, a fixture of head coach Brian Kelly’s recruiting, will return at least four of the five starters next season.
Well, about that defense …
And, OK, give it credit for the out-of-nowhere three consecutive sacks to seal the victory. Where that came from we may never know. The about-face will go down as one of the great unexplained mysteries in LSU football history.
How out of character was it? It was as if Nussmeier had suddenly scrambled for 85 yards, à la Daniels.
You could also point out that Wisconsin scored three points with its final five possessions.
But it didn’t change the fact that for most of the bowl game this was the same ol’ same ol’ defense — out of position, tackle-challenged and desperately chasing open receivers.
And that was the sole explanation for LSU being in such desperate straits at the end of the game.
We’re not likely to see another LSU offense like this
year’s bunch anytime soon. But thanks solely to that woeful defense, this wildly exciting team didn’t get anywhere near the College Football Playoff — and would have just missed out even if next season’s 12-team playoff was in effect.
It was a fun and entertaining season, to be sure, but with that lack of defense it’s not sustainable if your goal each year is to make the playoff — and, make no mistake, in this new era of the playoffs, that will be the goal of any team of LSU’s ilk.
The offense, which has to replace departed coordinator Mike Denbrock, is apparently in good hands.
But somebody has to answer for this historically bad defense.
There were extenuating circumstances, perhaps.
But they had all season to get it better and never did.
They then had a month to prepare for Wisconsin. I really thought you’d see something different, at least a little better. Yet against it looked as lost against that normally pedestrian Wisconsin outfit, which was missing its leading rusher, as it did to open the season against Florida State.
Casual fans who tuned in expecting to see a Heisman Trophy winner may have mistakenly thought he was wearing Wisconsin red and answered to the name Tanner Mordecai.
Wisconsin came away thinking it had finally found an offense. Mordecai strafed the Tigers for 378 yards, the most by any Badgers quarterback since 2019. The Badgers, who were also missing their top two receivers, had two players with 100 yards receiving for the first time since 2012. Even losing 26 yards on the final three plays, Wisconsin’s 506 yards was its most all season, even against the likes of Buffalo and Georgia Southern.
Wisconsin should have checked around the SEC. Sixty minutes alone with that LSU defense was an offensive mirage, fools’ gold, for a lot of them, even those that still couldn’t keep up with beep-beep Tigers offensive attack.
Maybe it’s not as simple as firing the coordinator, Matt House.
But something has to change. Standing pat and hoping it will get better is not the answer. You would have thought any staff changes would have come in the downtime before the bowl. But apparently it’s still on the table.
“We will evaluate now that the season is completed,” Kelly said. “I will do a full evaluation on all our staff. I wanted continuity through the bowl game. Now my focus will be on 2024.”
Godspeed, Coach Kelly, godspeed.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org